EAGLE OF DARKNESS
Martin Kramer's ambition is to become a deputy director of the CIA. But he brings the threat of nuclear war when he launches Operation Oracle, a personal campaign of hate against Israel. Sam Bolt gets caught up in Kramer's plans when he meets the mysterious Panya Pulaski from Unity Through Faith, a group trying to bring peace between Christians, Jews and Muslims in order to get aid and medicine to the Middle East. Sam is in trouble. With his children in care, and his partner missing with the lottery winnings, he is suspected of murder. And a relentless newspaper reporter refuses to leave him alone. When Sam hears of a wartime Gestapo officer buried in a Berlin cellar, he reluctantly flies to Germany to investigate. The body holds the key to an ancient prophecy that could blow Kramer's plans sky high. But all Sam wants is his children back. Eagle of Darkness -- a chilling chain of events running through America, England and Germany, coming to a gripping finale in the Red Mountains of Egypt.
Eagle of Darkness
First published in 2002 ©Christopher Wright by Hard Shell Publishing in the USA
This new North View Publishing edition ©Christopher Wright 2015
Eagle of Darkness is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Statements made by characters in this book may not always reflect historical fact, just what the characters choose to believe to be true. Racist statements are those of the fictional characters making them, and are essential to the plot. They do not in any way reflect the views of the author.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the copyright owner of this book.
North View Publishing
More thrillers by Christopher Wright available now, or coming soon, from North View Publishing
This book was first published in 2002 (“The Present”), shortly after nine-eleven, and reflects the political, military, religious and international situation at that time, before the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The technology is therefore the technology of 2002, which is why fax machines rather than the mobile Internet are in regular use, and so are public phone boxes (a dying breed now). Modern battlefield drones are far in advance of the basic Gideon drones here. The world of technology has changed so much in a few short years, and of course is changing still.
The only alterations I have made in this North View Publishing 2015 edition of Eagle of Darkness are minor edits and small additions that make some things clearer, but these do not change the plot or update the technology in any way. It is important to realize that it wasn’t until later that websites like Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006) became available to subscribers throughout the world, allowing users to spread information quickly and widely.
According to one biblical tradition, the Hebrews are descended from Shem, one of Noah’s sons. Shem was the great grandfather of Heber (or Eber), although this origin of the name is not accepted by everyone. The Institute of Egyptologists in this story has understood the name “Sons of Heber” in their prophecy to be the Hebrews, and then by inference to indicate modern Israel. No one investigating the prophecy challenges this interpretation, so please accept it too as you read this work of fiction. (No correspondence on this, please!)
“The large bird from Mitzrayim will destroy the chicks of the people on the holy mountain who will mourn their leaders.”
A MIXTURE of hysteria and paralysis gripped the passengers as the explosion ripped away the rear of the aircraft. An icy blast roared through the cabin, scattering top secret papers and baggage. Several seats disappeared from sight, spiraling into space with their screaming occupants.
A few of the remaining passengers attempted to stand, but the increasing angle of the dive made standing impossible. Most gripped their armrests with white knuckled hands, trying to recall half-forgotten prayers as the dark blue water of the Mediterranean rose to meet them. There would be no survivors.
At a stroke, several Israeli cabinet ministers had been erased. Three days earlier the Institute of Egyptologists had predicted the destruction of the special mission from Jerusalem to Cairo. The prophecy of a major air disaster had been clear, and even the date was exact. But no one in authority paid any attention before the fatal flight. The findings of the Institute of Egyptologists seemed unimportant.
The Partners at the Institute were shocked by the tragedy, yes, but mostly they were elated. If proof were needed, they told each other, this was surely it. This was their third clear prediction in the past year. But there was little coverage in the press.
In Virginia, Martin Kramer reacted with frustration at the lack of media attention. He needed to generate worldwide interest in the prophecies, and he needed to do it immediately. The Eagle of Darkness was almost ready to fly.
THE MAN stepped out of the shadows, blocking the way into the house. “Mr. Sam Bolt?” he asked quietly.
Sam stopped, the door key in his hand. If the thin man in the long raincoat was wearing a trilby hat with a press card pushed into the rim, he’d be a dead ringer for a reporter from a 1940s B movie.
“What are you doing here, Tolley?” Sam snapped. “Come to accuse me of killing my partner? Again?”
The man already had his notebook open. “I think maybe we can help each other.” He looked up and smiled.
“Bill Tolley, the Sniffing Ferret.” Sam shook his head. “Hasn’t Fleet Street got rid of you yet?”
The smile disappeared instantly. "Now, Sam -- may I call you Sam? -- I don't invent the news. I only report it."
“With innuendo. Why the hell should I talk to you?”
“I have some information.”
“About my partner?”
The reporter shook his head.
“My children? The money?”
“Sam, Sam, it’s freezing out here. You’re going to have to let me in.”
Sam Bolt put the key in the door. Three months ago Tolley had been a persistent problem, like a neighbor’s dog that never stops barking. “This had better be good,” he said.
“I want you to run back over the events when your partner went missing.”
“I don’t like your tone,” Sam warned.
“Do you want me to run a piece for you on police victimization?”
“Press victimization, you mean.”
Bill Tolley pointed to the front door. “Let’s start at the beginning. Can we go in?”
Sam sighed loudly, but decided it would be as well to keep on the good side of this reporter from the Morning Herald. He showed him into the lounge. “Leave your coat on, sit down, and don’t muck up the furniture.”
Tolley referred to something in his notebook. “Your partner Sally won ten million.”
“See, you’re making it up as you go along. You know perfectly well it was just over two million.” Sam stayed on his feet. “I think you’d better leave.”
Bill Tolley sank back into the large sofa. “Okay, so she won well over two million. And she decided to keep it for herself.”
“Did you have a problem with your relationship?”
“What the hell business is it of yours, Tolley?”
The reporter studied his notebook again, although he probably knew his questions off by heart -- and most of the answers as well. "You told the police that Sally had bought the lottery ticket with her own money, so the winnings were hers."
“Very noble of you.”
“We weren’t married, so I didn’t stand a chance. That’s what her lawyers said.”
“ Then she left you -- you say."
“Look, if you know where Sally is, tell me. I want my two children back.”
Tolley nodded and wrote down something briefly. “Yes, that’s a bad one. Of course, Sally gave up her job when you … she … won the money.”
“Sally was a typist. Who wants to type when they’ve got two million in the bank?”
“Over two million.” Tolley flicked his notebook shut. “Have you ever wondered what your partner was doing at the Institute of Egyptologists?”
“She typed letters for them. That’s what typists do.”
“Bring anything home?”
“Not that I know. Why?”
“Would you say they’re a weird lot?”
He knew he should never have let the man through the front door. He could imagine the headlines in the Herald tomorrow, implying he still had something to hide. “Sally didn’t like the place, but it was a job.”
“And you’ve no idea where she is now?”
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. All I want is to get the kids back from Social Services.”
“Have you considered that your partner might still be at the Institute, with Dr. Wynne?” Tolley leaned forward with a studied earnestness. “He might have brainwashed her.”
“Like a cult?” For a moment he felt caught unawares. The possibility had never occurred to him before. “What makes you say that?”
“Who knows what that crazy lot are up to? They seem to have their finger on something. There’s talk of war in the Middle East. The Israelis have been acting offensively lately.”
“They’re on the defensive,” said Sam. “They’re caught in the middle with all these terrorist reprisals.”
“They’re caught on the back foot,” said Tolley. “And suddenly the Arab nations are afraid of being nuked by them.”
“I heard. But I can’t imagine that lot up the street are selling Israel the bombs.”
“Of course not, but they popped up all of a sudden to tell us it’s been predicted.” Tolley seemed to be running through a well prepared speech. “One moment there’s a few old duffers at the Institute of Egyptologists muttering about an ancient Egyptian god called Aten, and now they’re fixing up a press conference to tell us about the end of the world.”
“I didn’t know.”
“That’s why I’m telling you.”
“You’re enjoying this,” taunted Sam. “You’re just about finished as a reporter, but you think you could be a star again.”
Tolley held up his hands. “Me? With a bloody piss artist for an editor?”
“You’re investigating the Institute!”
The reporter yawned. “I’ll probably be making a fool of myself but, yes, I’m interested in what Dr. Wynne is doing.”
“Careful you don’t overdo the enthusiasm.”
“It’s only a temporary attack.” Bill Tolley stretched out full length on the sofa, and yawned again as he swung his legs up onto the arm. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the game, the world always springs surprises on us. You still flying those jets?”
“I’ve been under suspicion of murder,” Sam muttered. This reporter was a menace. “The airline was happy to let me go. They thought the passengers wouldn’t be too pleased if they knew a murderer had his hands on the controls.”
“Is that an admission?”
Sam stood up. “For Pete’s sake, Tolley, can’t you even recognize sarcasm?”
“She might be out there.” Tolley pointed to the back of the house.
“She’ll be cold if she is.”
“Not if she’s six feet under.”
“She’s not. The police dug up the garden eight weeks ago.”
“Did they find any clues?”
“I think you’d know if they did.”
“Okay, would you have her back?”
“You’re not serious, I hope.”
Tolley opened to his notebook again. “Ever thought about checking up on the Institute one night? If your partner’s shacked up at there, it would prove you didn’t murder her.”
“I’m not breaking in.” Tolley’s visit was starting to make sense.
“You could look through the windows.”
“What’s in it for you?”
“I’ll tell you what, Sam. My new editor is still wet behind the ears. I started to write something to send the Institute up, but he wouldn’t have it. Said he wanted a sympathetic approach, not a lampoon. Wrote something groveling himself for the Sunday supplement a couple of weeks ago.”
“And you’re still mad at him?”
“He believes all this rubbish from Dr. Gresley Wynne. Tell me, Sam, what sense is there in being motivated nowadays?”
“Look, Tolley, I don’t care what drives you, but whatever it is you’re planning, you’re not doing it with me.”
“I was hoping you’d help me dig the dirt on the Institute.”
“What, snoop around for you? You haven’t got a hope in hell. You and the police have ruined my life.”
Tolley stood up and waved his notebook. “Before I go, Sam, tell me one thing. You’re definitely innocent?”
“Right, that’s it.” He caught the reporter by the back of his long coat and propelled him out through the front door.
THE MAN found himself sweating, in spite of the cool November afternoon. The large Mitsubishi off-roader looked too smart for this area of the river, and he was painfully aware of too many eyes watching the bright blue vehicle as he pulled away from the water’s edge onto the firm tarmac.
He half expected the Mukhabarat, the Egyptian secret service, to be waiting for him here on the Gezira waterfront, demanding to check his load. He floored the throttle and swung into the afternoon traffic. The sudden acceleration and the protesting tires drew even more attention, but his nerves would allow nothing less. The fume-filled streets would take him south, away from the hectic city.
The unsteady ticking from the instrument on the front passenger seat became steadier now and he began to relax. He glanced at the reading. Just under fifty counts. Insufficient radiation was coming off the crate to cause any health problems, as long as the journey up the Nile highway lasted less than the estimated two hours.
Beni Mazar, Egypt
THE INDUSTRIAL complex on the outskirts of Beni Mazar came into sight two hours and fifteen minutes later, the site looking derelict. A small Coca Cola sign hung from an abandoned stone building on the corner, its enamel paint rusty from many stone chips.
He slowed and checked his mirror again. He’d attracted absolutely no attention on the journey south. Ahmed’s photographs at the briefing seemed to have been adequate for the purpose. The empty warehouse across the sandy yard was exactly as he’d expected, and the key fitted the door. It was as though he’d been here before. The photographs weren’t just adequate: they were excellent.
The Arabic fascia in red and black, advertising the Alexandria Packing Company, had peeled in the bright sun, and the blue paint on the door looked ancient and powdery. All around the musty interior he could see signs of previous occupation: pallets and broken boxes. The place must have been empty for over a year. Warily he slid the heavy packing case to the ground, down the two thick planks he’d thrown into the back of the Mitsubishi before leaving Cairo.
The instrument on the front seat stopped its irregular ticking as he dragged the container away from the Mitsubishi and into the warehouse. He’d been sweating before this exertion, and he was sweating even more freely now. Having to wear gloves didn’t help. He paused to wipe the sweat from his face with his sleeve before removing a panel in the side of the crate. There were no markings, but the piece of paper in his pocket told him all he needed to know. Reaching in, he inserted the key, set the switch to the upward position, then locked it into place. The timer started running.
An anti-tamper mechanism had been fitted. Not even this key could disable it now. Any unauthorized interference would be devastating. Ahmed, the Lebanese agent, had given him definite instructions. He must not touch the switch again.
He climbed back into the bright blue off-roader. Without the high radiation source on board he could drive slowly and still be back in Cairo well before midnight, in time for a shower and a few Sakkaras. Then he would leave the Mitsubishi by the eastern approach to the el-Tahrir Bridge as arranged, and meet the woman at the bus station for his money.
As he swung the vehicle round in the sandy track he had to think for a moment, just to be absolutely sure. Up. He had definitely put the switch up. One night soon the electronic timer would trip, and in one blinding instant this area of Beni Mazar would become the focus of a nuclear nightmare.
“God,” he said to himself as he joined the main Cairo Aswan highway, “I could be about to start Armageddon!” He tried to laugh, but couldn’t.
IN THE early hours of the morning a police officer stopped to urinate in a deserted alley, and found a man’s body smelling of beer behind a pile of rubbish near the central bus station, close to the el-Tahrir Bridge. His throat had been slit, and the blood on his clothing still felt warm. In the man’s pocket the policeman found a creased scrap of paper. Up for on was all it said.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
SAM BOLT drove a hundred yards past the gates of the Institute of Egyptologists and stopped under the trees. Two cars swept along the street in swift succession but they didn’t slow down. He started to feel uneasy. To approach the house through the main gates he would have to be in the open, but it seemed a better option than climbing the high wall and using the shrubbery.
He sprinted softly across the driveway and sank back into a dense hawthorn, pulling himself free of its painful spikes. The recent rain on the branches soaked his jacket, and the chill November air made him shiver. He stopped to get his breath back and take in his surroundings. Bill Tolley had been nothing but a menace, and now the reporter’s stupid theories had got him into this absurd situation. If Tolley thought Sally was dead, why did he suggest she could be here at the Institute? He’d let Tolley wind him up too much.
The large house had lights on in several upstairs rooms, showing patchily through closed curtains. On the south side of the house a dazzling red light sparkled on the glass of a downstairs window. What was this, a palace of fun? Had Sally been working here giving massages?
He noticed that security lights and sensors had been mounted high on the front wall of the house, and the first one came on with a blaze that made him jump. No one seemed to be taking any notice. A person would have to be out here in the grounds to see him now.
He looked up and decided it would be best to approach the window from the side, through the shrubbery. He stayed still and waited for the light to go off on its timer. Hopefully from this close to the house he wouldn’t trigger any more lights. He moved sideways cautiously until he came to the lighted window. The security light stayed off. Good, its sensor didn’t pick up moving bodies this close to the walls.
Looking into the room he could see a huge mural in gold and orange that made the place look like the inside of an Egyptian temple, under a sky of brilliant stars that were projected onto the ceiling. Maybe the window could be opened from the outside.
A woman’s voice spoke without warning from the darkness behind him. “What are you doing here?”
He jumped up and caught his head sharply on a branch on one of the shrubs. “I may have the wrong address.”
“Does Dr. Wynne know you’re here?” The woman sounded American, and seemed irritated. She must have been following him closely, for the security light had not been triggered again. It wasn’t going to be easy to talk his way out of this one.
“Dr. Wynne? Good, that means I’ve got the right place.”
“It all seems very questionable. I’m going to get help.”
Sam thought fast. “Is Dr. Wynne your father?”
“Of course he’s not.”
“I only came to … check that this is the Institute of Egyptologists.”
“It is. Where’s your car?”
He decided to go on the attack. “I’m Sam Bolt. Are you Mrs. Wynne?”
“I’m Mrs. Pulaski. Panya Pulaski.”
“And I suppose Mr. Pulaski is about to come along and throw me out. Well, I can save him the bother. I’m going.”
The woman hesitated. “There is no Mr. Pulaski.” A car passed on the street, its headlights flashing on the bare branches of the woodland.
“I’ll be back in the morning, and I hope Dr. Wynne will be polite enough to make me welcome.”
“I guess you’re not a burglar.”
“Not tonight,” he said. “My partner mentioned there was an American housekeeper working here. Is that you?”
She seemed relieved. “You know Dr. Wynne?”
“My partner Sally used to work for him. In the office.”
There was a long pause. Then, “I think I owe you an apology.”
“Not really. I shouldn’t have come at night.”
Panya Pulaski stepped back onto the path and the security light came on. She looked round the open space in front of the house. “Did you walk?”
“I parked in the main road.” That thought was unlikely to console this jumpy woman in a dark jacket done up to the neck. Under the bright overhead light he noticed her dark skin, and her long black hair pulled back and tied in a pony tail. She was probably Middle Eastern, even though she spoke with an American accent. But the name Pulaski sounded more East European than Arabic.
“I heard about your … partner,” she said. “She went off, didn’t she?”
He was about to explain, but decided that explanations could wait. He clearly wasn’t going to get a look inside the big house tonight. “Do you live here?”
The American shook her head. “I’ve got a couple of rooms in the Lodge. It’s all right there, but it’s quiet.”
“Quiet?” Something important had been omitted. “There’s a problem?”
Panya Pulaski gave him an old fashioned glare. “I’m not discussing my life with strangers, Sam. Especially not with friends of Dr. Wynne.”
Surely this thin woman in black skin-tight leggings hadn't thought he was coming on. "I'm going home now," he said curtly. "I'll be back tomorrow -- to see Dr. Wynne."
“You’ve cut your head,” she said suddenly, her voice thawing a little.
“Don’t worry about it. I caught it on that branch.”
“It’s just that … I don’t like to see you going home bleeding.”
“Look the other way. I’ll be fine.”
“You could come back to the Lodge with me and have some coffee,” she said slowly. “Let me put something on that cut while I dry your coat.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” For some unaccountable reason he found himself playing hard to get.
“Please.” Panya studied him carefully. “I’d appreciate a bit of normal company for a change.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“TELL ME, SAM, do you have a problem with all women, or is it just with me?”
Sam took a CD from the rack. He’d been patched up, given hot coffee, and a lukewarm welcome. But he found it hard to relax. “I’ve got family problems. I shouldn’t have brought them with me. I’m sorry.”
“We all have problems, Sam. I’m sure you’re a nice enough guy, but you’ve got one awfully tough shell.”
“It’s the way life’s treated me.”
“Sally and the children? Maybe you’ve got a problem with the way you’re treating yourself.”
He felt angry. “Look, if you had two children…”
“I don’t have any children. I never will.”
“Yes, okay, you’re right, we’ve all got problems. I’m just not very good at handling mine.” He wasn’t going to grovel. It wasn’t as though he’d invited himself here. He examined the CD label. Max Bruch. “I approve of your taste in music” He tried to sound more sociable than he felt.
Panya smiled for the first time. “I’m a fan of Bruch. I once tried playing his First Violin Concerto, and realized how talented he was.”
“You play the violin?”
She shook her head. “Not since school.”
“You should take it up again. It will help pass the quiet nights.” He slipped the CD of the Second Violin Concerto in D minor into the player and turned the volume low so they could talk. “It’s good, but I like my classical music to be more exciting.”
“I’ve been meaning to get some more CDs that are lively,” said Panya, “but there’s no decent music shop round here.”
Sam sat down. He’d come for information, not chit-chat. “Sally didn’t like working at the big house. She found the atmosphere weird.”
Panya nodded in understanding. Her large eyes were partly concealed by small glasses with thin wire frames of a deep purple color. She had an open honesty. An innocence. He’d never spent an evening alone with a woman like this. The female cabin crew were … well, poles apart. And some were a lot more fun.
She said. “If your partner worked for Dr. Wynne, you probably know much more about the place than I do. I’ve only been here four months.”
“But is it weird?”
“The two men in charge give me the creeps.” Panya’s awkward laugh turned into an embarrassed giggle. “Gresley Wynne and Denby Rawlins. They’re like two dirty old men in the park. They keep staring at my body and breathing hard.”
Sam nodded. He couldn’t see Panya’s body as being especially desirable, but perhaps some men fancied her. Her black leggings emphasized her thin legs, while the navy sweatshirt hung loosely over her body. The woman looked to be in serious need of a decent meal. “Are your parents American?”
She touched her face. “You’re wondering how I got my Mediterranean skin?”
“Well, you don’t look Scandinavian.”
“My father was American. A merchant seaman from Philadelphia. He had a woman in every port, and my mother was the one in Cairo. So I guess I’m half Egyptian.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
Panya laughed. “There’s nothing to be sorry about. My father married my mother, took her back to Philadelphia, and gave up sailing. They’re still happily married. And you look ever so embarrassed.”
He knew he’d gone red. “Are you over here on a work visa?” he asked, changing the subject a little too quickly.
“I travel around a lot.”
That was all. Sam felt he’d pushed his nose in far enough and found himself wondering why he was even interested in Panya’s life story. “Tell me about the dirty old men. Sally never mentioned them. She never talked about her work.”
“Denby Rawlins is the worst. He’s got permanently red eyes. Probably from staring at me for so long. I’m expecting him to unzip his pants at any moment.”
Sam felt compelled to glance down at his zipper, just in case. “They say it makes you blind.”
But Panya looked serious. “It’s not funny, not when you’re here on your own. I’ve heard noises in the ceiling over the bathroom, and I’m sure someone’s been through my dressing table drawers.”
“You need a man to keep an eye on you.” He swallowed. He’d not meant it to sound like an offer.
“I had a man once.” Panya gave a rather forced laugh, sounding as embarrassed as Sam felt.
He tried to make light of things. “And I had a partner. But it’s probably not worth looking for another one. The end of the world is coming soon.”
“That’s what this place is all about, isn’t it? The large bird from Mitzrayim will destroy the chicks of the people on the holy mountain. Something about the start of Armageddon. I read about it in the paper. Not that it made any sense. What on earth is Mitzrayim?”
“Mitzrayim is the Old Testament name for Egypt. The prediction implied the airliner would be Israeli, and leaving Egypt.”
“You can’t expect me to swallow all this claptrap.”
“They had the exact date.”
Panya sounded serious. “There’s talk of more war in the Middle East. The Institute’s prophecy says it’s going to be nuclear and involve Israel. We’d love to know who’s behind it all.”
A loud knock at the door made them both jump. Panya signaled to Sam to stay where he was as she went to answer it. From his armchair he could hear a man’s voice.
Panya returned with an elderly man in a tight fitting suit. “This is Dr. Gresley Wynne who owns the Institute.” she said. “And this is Sam…” She looked at Sam to introduce him to the visitor, obviously not remembering his surname.
“Sam Bolt,” he said, thinking that Dr. Wynne looked a rather sad figure. Not the wild-eyed fanatic Tolley had led him to expect.
“I just wanted to make sure you were all right. Miss Pulaski,” he said. “I thought I heard a prowler outside the Institute.”
“I was showing Sam around the grounds,” Panya Pulaski said disarmingly. “His partner Sally worked for you.”
Sam hadn’t anticipated confronting Dr. Wynne, but he might as well be direct. “When did you last see Sally?”
“Your partner?” Gresley Wynne looked surprised. “She must have left … two, three months ago. She left so suddenly. I believe she won a considerable sum of money.”
“Has she been in contact with you since she left?”
The elderly man hesitated. “Has … she been in contact?”
“Are you the airline pilot?” Gresley Wynne seemed to be recalling something from the past.
“I remember it all now. The police thought you’d murdered Sally. They put her two small children into care for safety.”
“They’re my children as well,” said Sam.
“Your partner sometimes boasted about the places you flew to, and how you could speak to all the locals.”
“I speak a few languages passably.”
“Fairly well. And I can still fly planes. Are you offering me a job?”
Gresley Wynne looked interested. “Employment, yes, but not flying. Do you know, I believe Aten has arranged this meeting.”
Sam looked at Panya for help, but she stared blankly. “So what’s the job?” he asked.
“I have a problem in Germany that needs sorting out as a matter of great urgency. Can you keep a confidence?”
“I’d need to know more.” Sam realized this could give him the foot in the Institute door he needed. Not for Tolley, for himself. If he could prove Sally was still alive, the Social Services would have to give his children back.
“I do not wish to discuss it here,” said Gresley Wynne.
It seemed a reasonable response. Sam had no idea where Panya Pulaski fitted into the picture. “I can call round to the Institute tomorrow.”
Gresley Wynne shook his head. “You misunderstand me, young man. I do not wish to discuss this matter anywhere at the Institute. It is something … something that only I know about.”
“You could come round to my house tomorrow afternoon.” Sam wondered whether to have Bill Tolley listening in the next room, but decided to do this one on his own. He didn’t owe Tolley anything.
On his way home Sam slammed the brakes on, bringing his car to a sliding halt as he thought back to what Panya Pulaski had said just before Dr. Wynne called. The prophecy says it’s going to be nuclear. We’d love to know who’s behind it all.
Who did Panya mean by “we”?
INTERNATIONAL NEWS BUREAU
The Israeli prime minister is demanding a public apology from Egypt for the loss of the Israeli airliner and passengers in Egyptian airspace, for which he holds Egypt responsible. Israeli intelligence agency Mossad is investigating several leads in the search for the guilty, the prime minister said, adding that the crime would not go unpunished. But he strongly denied that Israel would deploy nuclear arms, unless attacked with nuclear arms first. Representatives of the United Nations will this week be visiting several Arab countries in the Middle East in an attempt to cool the potentially explosive situation. The Jordanian prime minister last night flew to Cairo to assure Egypt of his full support in the crisis. Meanwhile, the United States is reported to be moving the 5th Fleet into the Mediterranean for routine naval exercises.
SO ISRAEL was prepared to use nuclear arms. Only rumors of course. Langley would know their true intentions, but no one in the CIA was telling him anything. Even Kramer had given him the cold shoulder when he’d phoned his old colleague at Langley, hoping for a few crumbs. Being retired from the White House press office was full of drawbacks. As an operations officer on the Middle East desk, Kramer must know everything.
Grant Spaxley itched for news. This life didn’t suit him, especially since Pauline had managed to die of a bowel disease within eighteen months of him clearing his press desk in Washington. He’d worked for the CIA during the fiasco in the Bay of Pigs, ending his service in the Office of the Press Secretary at the White House five years ago. Over the years he’d come to be known as Admiral. The handle suited him. Some of the junior White House staff even believed it was his rank. Admiral Grant Spaxley. He’d only been a young lieutenant during the Cuba crisis, mentally and physically prepared for the invasion, though unprepared for the burden of failure. An active man, he’d come to relish the exercise of authority on the press: even the exercise of his power on American presidents.
But since retirement he’d come to miss the constant updating of information on demand, the cut and thrust of briefings with the media. Using his contacts at Langley he’d been able to find out anything. Information had been an essential part of his duties, before telling the press only what they needed to know.
The times at the CIA and the White House had generally been good, in spite of incompetent presidents clipping his wings. He’d never been able to come to terms with weakness in the presidential post. Nixon was seen by many as the moment when the rot set in, for that was when the press had started to speak without fear of reprisal, surprised by their own daring. Of course, the Company had always known about corruption in the White House, but Langley turned a blind eye, and the presidents had done the same in return. It had been a workable routine, allowing both sides to pursue their separate ways. Until Nixon. Thanks to the outspoken press, the CIA was gutless. Since 1982 it had operated with its balls cut off. Effeminate. A tool of the people, of administrators.
Kramer’s invitation had come as a complete surprise last night. There had to be more to it than a day’s fishing. Whatever the future held, Spaxley knew he had balls for it, even if the CIA had lost its manhood. Did Kramer need him back working for Langley? A freelancer? It was how some of the best field agents passed their retirement. Maybe it was how he could give the American people the benefit of his expertise.
Beni Mazar, Egypt
CALEB FLUNG a small stone at the Coca Cola sign. The Alexandria Packing Company paid him a pittance for such a responsible job. Not that they checked on him often. The site was almost unused nowadays, but suddenly he had been ordered to stay around, just to make sure the wooden packing case was safe in the warehouse. He’d been quick to get inside the store as soon as the man with the Mitsubishi had gone. On a previous occasion there had been some cases of engine oil left on a pallet. A few of the cans had helped make up for the poor pay.
And the beer. The maintenance workers had not been able to drink all their Sakkara before going back to Cairo, because he’d hidden some of it away before they left. The beer had been the best bonus so far this year.
He picked up a larger stone and threw it at the painted sign lit by the rising moon. It hit the metal with a sharp clang, just above the C of Cola. There was no one around to witness his skill. The people of Beni Mazar never came out here. Just the man yesterday with the bright blue Mitsubishi, leaving the large wooden crate.
It bothered him not knowing what was inside. At the third stone, the faded sign slipped sideways on the wall. Slowly he pulled a key for the warehouse door and a small flashlight from deep inside his filthy cloak. It might be worth another look.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
THE MORNING sun beamed through the south window of the room, onto the huge plaster mural on the north wall. Aten, the sun god, with the people below raising their arms in worship.
Gresley Wynne bent down and stroked the large cream colored cat. Its pointed ears took him back to the cats of ancient Egypt. It had been worth the extended quarantine to get this magnificent animal from Cairo three years ago.
This room was indeed a temple. By the evening, when the sun ceased to shine, a ruby-red laser gleamed down from the center of the painted sun above the low table, the single ray scattering on the polished floor before being reflected out through the window, challenging the night sky with the purity and perfection of its ray. Aten, the disc of the sun. From midnight until dawn a projector displayed the night sky in Egypt, the stars exactly as seen in the year 1349 BC, the year the Pharaoh Akenaten and his priests explored the ancient pyramid of King Unas and broke the code of the Pyramid Texts.
He ran his fingers slowly and tenderly along the top of the table by the north wall. This Table of Life was right and proper for the Hall of Aten. Wood, a living substance, like human flesh. Used for the service of a worthy cause. A giving of the body to the Partners, giving in total submission. Self-gratification had never been an objective of the Institute, but the contemplation of a willing body did have a certain erotic effect that could not be dismissed lightly.
The three Partners of Aten were still evolving. Total dedication had been important in the early days. There had been much work to be carried out over that time, leaving little energy for the diversion of Aten’s energy as it flowed through the living bodies of his Partners on earth.
Was it possible for a mere employee, uninitiated, to come under the influence of Aten? Suddenly the American woman was standing at the door, watching. “What do you want, Mrs. Pulaski?”
The housekeeper walked forward, her body thin but firm. She placed her purse on the table. “Sorry to bother you, Dr. Wynne, but I’ve been down to the shop to get the papers and your magazines. I couldn’t find you earlier, so I used my own money. Do you have a twenty pound note?”
“I think so, Mrs. Pulaski.”
The woman had broken the spell, but in the name of Aten she now aroused him. This young widow surely had needs that filled her with fire deep down. Of course it was a shock to hear her speak of money. The very mention of contemporary life had no part in the speech that should pass human lips in the Hall of Aten. He snatched the purse from the oak table. The woman had touched the Table of Life. Aten could be easily displeased.
He watched her as she moved. Beneath that loose navy sweatshirt lay a dark and supple body, filled with Egyptian blood. After fifteen years of dedication to serving Aten he was finding a sudden rebirth of his sexual energy. Memories of excitement during his college days returned. Male or female, did it matter as long as the flesh was in the springtime of life? He found himself unexpectedly stimulated.
“I am going to see Mr. Bolt this afternoon, Mrs. Pulaski. I would like you to drive me.”
GRANT SPAXLEY had a high level of respect for Martin Kramer, even though the man was constantly frustrated in his attempts to become a deputy director. Kramer tied flies for trout like no one else. He could write a best-selling book about fly fishing if he ever had the time. Green Drakes, Pheasant Tails, Light Cahills, Parachute Adams -- each fly subtly tailored to suit the conditions. Spaxley knew that in comparison, his own flies were only a shadow of the CIA man's works of art.
“I thought we’d have a little talk, Admiral,” said Kramer with his practiced smile that looked genuine, but was probably no more real than the tied flies in his cap were living, breathing examples of insect life. “I’ve not liked keeping things back from you since you left the White House.”
Spaxley nodded, taking his eyes off the March Brown he was halfway through making. March Browns were the only flies to use today, Kramer said, and it seemed that Kramer had been astute enough to bring his own immaculately prepared specimens. “Sure, I understand.”
Kramer’s March Browns certainly looked impressive, but he was already making small changes. “Have you heard of the Institute of Egyptologists?”
“I guess so,” said Spaxley. “They’re the group in England who seem to be getting everything thing right.”
“And you know why, Admiral?”
Spaxley shrugged. “They’re lucky?”
“Lucky, like hell. I infiltrated the Institute. Nearly a year ago.”
Spaxley let his fly slip and it dropped to the ground. “You’re serious?”
“They got an early prediction for the Middle East correct eighteen months back. It was the death of an Iraqi general. Chance probably, but they had his name right, so it earned them an investigation by the British Secret Intelligence Service.” Kramer looked up from his intricate work with a grin. “GCHQ at Cheltenham, England. They ran a full inquiry for them. Eavesdropping, electronic surveillance, computer hacking. Turned out the Institute was just a joke, and word went out they were to be left alone.” He pulled the line thread with his teeth, tightening the waist of the March Brown. “That’s when I took over.”
“With or without approval?”
Kramer tapped his nose. “Operation Oracle.”
“You’ve arranged this fishing trip to tell me the Company is hooked into the computers of the Institute of Egyptologists? Damn!” The carefully bound thread slipped, leaving a tangled mess of feathers and fur in place of his beautiful March Brown.
Kramer flicked his line across the smooth flowing water, dropping the fly with pin-point accuracy in a patch of still water between two large rocks. “Those kookies are about to go public with some major predictions for the Middle East.”
Spaxley had followed the cast with envy. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I want you to contact the Institute of Egyptologists and offer to handle their PR.”
“What the hell for?” The second fly in Spaxley’s fingers also turned into a nightmare ball of fluff.
“I need their prophecies to have the widest possible coverage in the media.”
Spaxley dropped the tangle of thread. “You need? Is this for Langley?”
“My personal operation, Admiral. I’m going to destroy Israel.”
“The hell you are.”
“The Jews have always hated my family. They murdered my father.”
“The Feds said it was drug smugglers.”
“That was just a cover up. The trouble started in the nineteen twenties. My great grandfather was working for a Jewish clothing company in Harlem, West 125th Street, but his boss detested him because he was a Gentile. That’s why he never got the promotion he deserved. He was the first to go in the Depression. Couldn’t take it. One day my grandfather got back from school and found him hanging from a beam in the garage. Can you imagine that, a fifteen-year-old kid finding his papa hanging from a beam?”
“I heard.” The next fly looked no better.
“Did you also hear my grandfather went to work for U.S. Customs when he left college? He was helping Immigration when he intercepted a boatload of Jewish refugees off the coast of New York. Nineteen forty-two it was. Refused to let them through until the paperwork was all sorted out. A Nazi U-boat torpedoed the Jews’ ship as they waited. My grandfather was exonerated in the inquiry, but his mistake was to rescue the survivors and take them back to New York.”
“The survivors pointed the finger at my grandfather. Accused him of callous behavior. The families of the Jews who died on the ship vowed vengeance. I found my grandfather’s diaries eight years ago. He lived every day in fear that they’d kill our family.”
“Perhaps he was simply paranoid,” suggested Spaxley.
“Not true. My father and grandfather had taken me to a baseball game. I was only twelve. On the way back two hooded men leaped out of a parked car and grabbed them. Shot my father and grandfather through the head on some waste land while I was watching. I thought I was next, but they told me to clear off and tell my mother what I’d seen.”
“Drug smugglers,” said Spaxley. Kramer wasn’t the only one who was paranoid. By the sound of it his whole family had been crazy for generations. “Kramer, he was working on a drugs ring for Customs. The Mafia run hit squads.”
“That’s what the cops said. It was a cover-up. They weren’t prepared to blame the Jews.”
Spaxley shook his head. And all because a man working in a clothing factory lost his job in the Depression. If the CIA knew about the ramblings in Kramer's grandfather's diary they would never let him become a deputy director -- on grounds of inherited insanity. "You have proof?"
“Look, Admiral, I don’t need proof. The State of Israel is illegal. They stole Arab land to get it. Any other race, and the West would have been down on them hard. But not the Jews. Too many vested interests in the United States. And now look what’s happened to New York on nine-eleven last year. It was our support for the Jews that caused those terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Hell, it was only the start of our troubles when those planes hit. I lost close pals in the Pentagon.”
“You on a personal crusade or something, Kramer?”
“Endermann knows how I feel. You ask him. Jews’ gold ruined his family.”
Spaxley frowned. “I’ve never felt one way or the other about the Jews.”
Kramer looked with stabbing eyes. “Operation Oracle is going to end the State of Israel for ever. The Jews will be homeless for the next two thousand years, just as they were after the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70. You’ll see. I’d been working on a plan for the best part of three years and getting nowhere. And suddenly a year ago up popped the Institute of Egyptologists. My new plan is perfect, but now I have run into a small problem. I’m pulling Endermann out of the press game.”
“Endermann’s been messing with the press? For you?”
“Admiral, I know you and Endermann haven’t always hit it off. But you’re an expert on the media. That’s why I need your help.”
Spaxley felt more excitement than if he’d caught the first trout. He tossed his next attempt at the March Brown into the wicker basket. “Middle East travel?”
Kramer shook his head. “I need Endermann in Cairo, helping Ahmed with his explosives.”
“So who’s the man you’ve infiltrated into the Institute of Egyptologists in England?”
“Olsen. Andy Olsen. Well, that’s his identity now. Don’t know how much longer I can trust him.”
“Care to tell me more?”
“Admiral, you’ll be… Hey, I’ve got one!” Kramer thrust the landing net into Spaxley’s hands and gripped the rod with both hands. “I’m going to fulfill the prophecies.”
“By giving them a nudge in the right direction?”
“Hell no, Admiral. A lot more than a nudge.”
“Tell me what these prophecies say. And don’t give me any bullshit.”
“Would you just look at that. A trophy brown. A five-pounder if ever I saw one. Careful with that net, Spaxley. You see, the Institute of Egyptologists, with my help, has worked out that a bright light is about to shine in the sky over Egypt. A fire in the heavens, bringing death like a plague. I need a catchy name for it. Any suggestions? Damn! Hold the net lower in the water. Right there!”
“What are you aiming for, another Middle East war?” Spaxley managed to get Kramer’s trout safely into the net. “Has everyone gone mad since I left the Company?”
“This isn’t Company business, it’s personal. For me and a few friends. You can meet them tomorrow evening in England.”
“Short notice, Kramer.”
“It’s always short notice in my business. Are you in?”
Spaxley knew he had a choice. He could blow the whistle and become involved in an endless government inquiry, or he could prove that he could still show people like Endermann a thing or two about controlling the press. “Have you covered your ass?”
“ Mine and Endermann's -- and yours if you join us."
Spaxley didn’t need to think. “Count me in, Kramer.”
Kramer struck his trout a sharp blow on the head. “Your flight leaves Dulles in six hours. And take it easy with Endermann. Believe me, he’s a big man. It doesn’t pay to butt heads.”
INTERNATIONAL NEWS BUREAU
As the crisis in the Middle East deepens, the government of Iraq has promised to retaliate in the event of any hostile action by Israel against its Arab neighbors. A military spokesman in Baghdad this evening said that the full might of the Iraqi war machine is already mobilized, awaiting the call to go to Egypt’s aid against its long-time aggressor. Many international commentators regard the threat to Israel as grave in the extreme.
CARDINAL FITZ emerged from hotel, marveling at the heat in the street outside. Dublin had never been like this at the approach of winter. The old stones of his grand Cairo hotel did a fine job in keeping the interior cool. He had been warned that Egypt would be chilly in November, but the information had come from Monsignor Negib of the Coptic Church in Cairo. Over ninety percent of Egyptians were Coptic, so he’d not complain to the man. It paid to stay on good terms with the believers here. Perhaps in comparison with the intense heat of summer this was the chilly season for a Cairene, but certainly not for an Irishman.
“Cardinal Fitz?” A young man in clerical black held out his arms in welcome, but withdrew them as Fitz approached.
Fitz smiled wryly. That was the trouble with the full crimson regalia of a cardinal: it made youthful priests feel afraid to show their real emotions. The constant presence of an Egyptian soldier with his shiny black gun was hardly helping either. A constant armed companion seemed so unnecessary. Fitz took the initiative, reached out and embraced the young priest. “Father David?”
Father David nodded as he took Fitz’s briefcase. “The driver is across the street, Your Eminence. There’s a choice. You can either go straight to meet the organizers who are with Monsignor Negib, or take a detour to see some of the sights. Does the soldier come as well?”
“He’s a charming man, but unfortunately he doesn’t speak English.” Fitz smiled at the soldier who continued to scan the area in front of the hotel. “If you speak Egyptian, Father David, perhaps you’d be thanking him for me. And yes, he does come as well.”
The young Catholic priest spoke a few words to the soldier who nodded glumly.
“There’s room in the car for all of us.” Father David sounded more relaxed now. “Shall we make the detour and see the sights?”
“Let’s be going directly to meet the Coptic monsignor and the other leaders. It will no doubt give my brain some much-needed exercise. I think I sense a challenge coming on.” He ran his hand down his cardinal’s robes. “I’ve been wearing a smart black suit the likes of yours until today. And I’m not sure which is going to prove the more uncomfortable in this heat.”
The young priest looked let down. “The Church of Saint Sergius is not far out of our way, Your Eminence. If you would like to see it.”
Cardinal Fitz noticed the priest’s expression. “All right,” he agreed. “Let’s be taking the detour before I meet the leaders of the other faiths.” It would be a shame to disappoint the man who had put considerable time into the preparations for this unique gathering of the three faiths. “You like the old church, Father David?”
“Many Christians wanted the service to be held there.”
“To be sure, and the Jews in Unity Through Faith wanted us to use the restored synagogue of Ben Ezra and fill it for worship. Are there any Jews left in Egypt?”
“Maybe a handful, Your Eminence. Most have gone to Israel. But enough have returned to Cairo specially to fill their share of seats in the al-Sûfiya mosque.”
“I pray to God we have done the right thing.”
Father David drew his breath in sharply. “The right thing, Your Eminence? I am convinced that the people in all countries are about to see what can be achieved through love and understanding.” Father David grinned with youthful self-assurance.
“I think we should err on the side of caution,” said Fitz. “There’s an awful lot of spadework still to be done. I know some exceedingly holy folk who would rather put a brick through the window at your place of worship than be giving you so much as a smile.”
The driver swerved violently to miss a large pothole, then resumed his rapid course down the center line of the street.
“This way we miss the grid-locked traffic in the city center,” said Father David. “On the rise there you can see minarets of the al-Sûfiya mosque. Preparations for maximum security are now completed.”
“Are they now?” Fitz clenched the grab handle above his head. The visit to Egypt was bad enough without thinking of problems from militant dissenters of all faiths during the service. He smiled, partly for his own reassurance and partly to convince the young priest that he had no worries.
Father David seemed to relish the lengths to which the organization had gone. “We’ve even checked the mosque for explosives,” he added, with a smile of the young and overconfident.
Sam’s House, England
SAM FELT lost for words. Back in his own house he could see how distasteful Dr. Wynne was. No wonder Sally had been so keen to give up her job at the Institute of Egyptologists when she won the lottery. Panya had driven Dr. Wynne in an old wreck of a car, just as he was finishing his lunch. She came in with Dr. Wynne.
Panya had on a long black skirt today, not the leggings she’d been wearing last night. He smiled politely at her and she smiled back rather hesitantly. He had to be careful not to make her think he was interested.
“Take your coat off, Dr. Wynne,” he said after an awkward silence, hoping the man was wearing something underneath. Goodness knows what Denby Rawlins must be like if Panya found him even more obnoxious than Dr. Wynne.
“Thank you.” Under the creased coat the man wore a tight-fitting suit in need of an urgent appointment at the cleaners. “I sincerely believe Aten wishes that we should speak together. I hope we can keep what I have to say confidential.” Gresley Wynne dribbled slightly as he smiled. “You see, Mr. Bolt, Aten is speaking.”
Sam looked up in feigned surprise. “You didn’t mention Aten. Is he coming too?”
Panya caught his eye and shook her head furiously, but Sam only laughed. Surely she realized he was winding the old man up.
“Sam,” she said earnestly, “Aten is the sun god. New Kingdom. Dr. Wynne is talking ancient Egypt, 1350 years BC.”
The scruffy man smiled, showing a mouthful of long yellow teeth. “Excellent, Mrs. Pulaski. It is good that you take an interest in our work. You could also have added that the pharaoh, King Akenaten, led his people to worship Aten as the only god.”
“Who was Akenaten?” asked Sam, not really wanting to know.
Dr. Wynne gasped. “Mr. Bolt, I am shocked at your ignorance. Surely you know that Akenaten was the son of Amenhotep III. Ruler of Thebes, king of Upper and Lower Egypt. Akenaten, the father-in-law of Tutankhamun, or perhaps even his father. Certainly Tutankhamun was originally called Tutankhaten. He betrayed Aten when Akenaten died, by changing the religion back to that of the old gods of Egypt. He even changed the ending of his name. And someone killed him for it. They were turbulent times, Mr. Bolt.”
Sam sat down on the sofa next to Dr. Wynne, a little bit closer than he’d intended. “Let’s skip the history lesson. You’re here because you’ve got a problem.”
“Security worries, Mr. Bolt.”
“Shouldn’t you be seeing the police?”
Dr. Wynne shook his head. “The police have written us off as cranks.”
In the long silence Sam could hear two women laughing in the street. Their hearing must be excellent.
“Aten speaks.” The unsteady voice of Dr. Wynne brought Sam’s attention back to the room. “The words are on Olsen’s cylinder, Mr. Bolt.” The man’s eyes gleamed. “The Institute of Egyptologists is being deeply blessed. It is nearly ten years since I purchased the building with the Second Partner, Denby Rawlins.”
Sam decided to take another dig at the old man. "And Olsen, is he from the New Kingdom -- or is he from the present?"
Gresley Wynne sighed softly, probably an attempt to be polite while making his impatience clear. “Olsen is the Third Partner, Mr. Bolt, and he is the reason I am here.”
Sam looked at Panya, but she seemed more interested in his room than in him. He wished he’d tidied up a bit more enthusiastically. The place was a mess, starting to look like a bachelor pad.
The visitor had only paused for breath, and wasn’t waiting for Sam to say anything. “I believe you are a man with whom I can share a confidence.” He put a hand on Sam’s knee and gave him a lecherous leer.
Sam moved to the far end of the sofa. Dr. Wynne moved with him.
“Three Partners of Aten, Mr. Bolt. I am the First Partner. Four secretarial staff members come in daily to handle the mail. Sally was, of course, one of them. And we have a cook and a cleaner, who also come in on a daily basis. Mrs. Pulaski here is our resident housekeeper.”
Bill Tolley had obviously got it wrong. Sally wasn’t still working there. No one would go through an elaborate pretense like this. In which case there was no point in continuing with the meeting. He looked at Panya and decided that it would be premature to back out now. For some reason he enjoyed seeing her in his house. “Tell me about Olsen, Dr. Wynne.”
The elderly visitor ran his hands around the waistband of his trousers. “Olsen and the clay cylinder came from America a year ago, like a gift from Aten. His cylinder was the key we needed to unlock the full secrets of the Pyramid Texts. We signed Olsen up for membership, and shortly after that we instated him as our Third Partner. It is thanks to him and Denby Rawlins that we have achieved such spectacular success.” He paused, producing a hideously stained handkerchief to wipe his forehead.
“And you seriously believe there’s something in these prophecies?” Sam asked, before he could stop himself. If he wasn’t careful he’d be getting another history lesson. “Aren’t they like the prophecies of Nostradamus? His predictions are so vague you can make them apply to almost anything you want to. Many of them are fakes anyway, written in Victorian times and more recently. Anyone can write a prophecy after the event.”
Panya went to the window, probably to hide her embarrassment, making Sam wonder if he’d gone too far.
Dr. Wynne finished adjusting the top of his trousers. “I, for one, Mr. Bolt, do not find the writings of Nostradamus credible. A thousand prophecies for the whole of mankind? Absolute nonsense. Did the world end in nineteen ninety-nine? Of course it didn’t. You are correct, people interpret the quatrains of Nostradamus to mean anything they want them to.”
Sam waited, deciding to say nothing. This sounded like the pot having a go at the kettle.
“Mr. Bolt, with the Pyramid Texts it is different. The prophecies are precise, and so far, highly accurate. We are using massive computing power to decode the Pyramid Texts to a far higher level than the New Kingdom priests could manage.”
“And the history of the world is on a single clay cylinder?”
“The cylinder turned up in Berlin during the war. Hitler thought the words on it were for his planned invasion of England in nineteen forty. Operation Sea Lion. Someone or something made him draw back. I believe Aten told him to land in North Africa.”
“Probably bad advice, as it turned out. Fortunately. You surely can’t imagine there’s a connection between Hitler and the ancient Egyptians.” Sam tried not to let his voice show too much contempt, but not too carefully.
“Mr. Bolt, King Unas was buried with his Pyramid Texts around 2323 BC. A thousand years later the New Kingdom priests decided to learn from the ancient tombs that were all around them. They discovered the Texts and realized they were a look into the future. The priests…”
“I’m not too interested in the past,” said Sam impatiently.
“You are missing so much, Mr. Bolt. You are missing the voice of Aten, the disc of the sun.”
Sam breathed out heavily. “Isn’t it all just a little … bizarre?”
“ Bizarre?" The voice sounded sharp. "I am sixty-two, a student of ancient Egypt, and no one has been able to accuse me of being bizarre -- not with any justification."
Sam ran his fingers through his long hair. Maybe he should get it cut soon. “Perhaps we can talk about your security problem.”
“Ah yes, if only I could know for sure if Olsen’s cylinder is genuine. I blame Frau List for raising the doubts in my mind.”
“Frau List?” asked Sam. “She doesn’t sound New Kingdom.”
“Two weeks ago the Institute had a double page coverage in the weekend edition of the Morning Herald. Very positive. Marvelous publicity. One picture showed our computer suite. Olsen, as always, had the cylinder of Aten on his desk.”
“And Frau List saw it?”
“She sent me a letter from Berlin.”
Sam waited. This coverage must be Bill Tolley’s editor’s “groveling piece”, as Tolley had put.
Gresley Wynne shook his head. “Has Aten really spoken, Mr. Bolt? Every time I stand in the Hall of Aten, I hear words of doubt.”
Sam said nothing. The man should have started hearing words of doubt years ago.
Gresley Wynne stared vacantly at the ceiling before continuing. “Fortunately Frau List’s letter was in English, so I was able to read it and keep it to myself.”
“So what exactly is the problem, Dr. Wynne?” Sam glanced furtively at his wristwatch. This visit was getting nowhere.
“ The problem," said Dr. Wynne quietly, "is Frau List. She claims that her father painted the words on the cylinder -- in nineteen forty."
“Which post-dates Aten by three-and-a-half thousand years,” said Sam. “Perhaps she’s crazy. Things like this appeal to crazy people.” He quite enjoyed taking a subtle dig at the old man.
“Frau List claims she witnessed the cylinder being painted. She knows about the original cylinder from which the copy was made. She says it’s buried in a Berlin basement.”
Sam tried his best to look interested. Something inside told him he wanted to be with Panya for a little longer. “Maybe there’s no connection. How can you know Olsen’s cylinder was in Germany during the war?”
Gresley Wynne smiled his yellowing teeth. “I have an original Nazi Party photograph showing Hitler holding the cylinder at a Rally in Berlin. It is dated September the fourth, nineteen forty. German photographs of that era are pin sharp. Believe me, every detail on the cylinder is an exact match with Olsen’s.”
“So what’s the problem?” Sam was uncertain whether to declare this man totally mad or just insane.
“Do you know, Mr. Bolt, I feel guilty for even questioning Olsen’s integrity. But suppose the prophecy is based on error. Suppose Frau List is right, and her grandfather did paint the markings on our cylinder. The Institute would be discredited, and our generous funding from around the world would dry up overnight.”
“Yes,” agreed Sam. “Sounds to me you’ve definitely got a problem.”
“The prophecies, Mr. Bolt. How can they be false when they are coming to pass?”
“Dr. Wynne, please get to the point. Quite honestly, I haven’t the slightest interest in all this Aten stuff, so I can’t see I can be any help.” Sam guessed he was embarrassing Panya, but he’d put up with this nonsense long enough.
“You do not need to become involved with the history of Egypt to be able to help me, Mr. Bolt. You say you speak German?”
“And you have a passport?”
“The police have given it back to me. Tell me what you want.”
Gresley Wynne caught him by the shoulder. “I want you to go to Berlin tomorrow and talk to Frau List.”
“Absolutely not,” Sam said.
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
PANYA HESITATED before picking up the phone. She had just got back from Sam Bolt’s house, and for some reason had rather enjoyed the experience. She looked at the clock on her mantelpiece. Three-thirty in the afternoon in England meant it must be five-thirty in Cairo. Her mind made up, she dialed the code for Egypt using her 0800 international phone card. It wouldn’t do for a Cairo phone number to appear on the next Institute bill. Whoever was going through her things might be on the lookout for records of suspicious long-distance calls. “I want to speak to Cardinal Fitz, please.”
She waited while the receptionist found the hotel room number.
“Michael?” she said when the phone was answered. Thank the good Lord the man was in his hotel room. “This is Panya.”
“Panya,” the Irish voice reverberated down the line. “And what is it that gets you calling a man while he’s got his feet up, preparing for a Unity Through Faith meeting this week?”
“I have a problem. Well, it’s a friend who has the problem.”
She ran through the details of her encounter with Sam, including what she’d heard about his runaway partner and the two children now in care.
“And to be sure,” responded the Cardinal after a pause when Panya had finished, “I’m thinking it’s you that has the problem, not the young man.”
“No, Michael, it’s Sam.”
“No, Panya, perhaps it’s a terrible thing you’re doing. Do you not think he may be a murderer after all?”
“You haven’t met him,” Panya retorted. “His partner is the guilty one. She ran off with the money.”
“Ah, so he says. And maybe it’s you that will be ending up dead next.”
“Michael Fitz,” Panya tried to sound at her most forceful with her favorite cardinal, “trust me. Sam’s a good, decent man.”
“I hope you’re not taking a fancy to the fellow.”
“I want to help him get his children back.”
“ Then that's a decent Christian act you're after doing. Didn't Jesus say blessed are the peacemakers, in his Sermon on the Mount? Can I be after offering any help now -- for the sake of the little children?"
“You have contacts in the Vatican bank.”
“The Vatican bank’s doors are closed to me”
“You’re a cardinal. Ask them to find where the money is. I’ve been talking to one of the secretaries here at the Institute. She knew Sam’s partner well. She says Sally cashed the check, so she must have opened another account somewhere.”
“Maybe she changed her name for the new account.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Panya. “But surely she’d have to register a change of name.”
“Banks aren’t after giving away confidences to the likes of me. I can’t possibly ask them to——”
“Sam’s children are in a council home, and he loves them very much. If they go to foster parents he may never get them back. We can’t deprive them of his care.”
“I need your help, Michael. Do you have contacts in any children’s homes in this area?”
“You’re asking a lot, Panya.”
“There’s another cylinder in Berlin. It could prove that the work at the Institute is phony. If I can persuade Sam to bring it back, can we work out a deal? He won’t want money. All he’ll want is his children.”
“Berlin? Panya, my child, tell me exactly what it is you’re after letting me in for.”
“SAM? THIS IS Panya. Panya Pulaski. Remember. I came to see you today with Dr. Wynne?”
He recognized the voice at once. He’d not expected a phone call. For some reason it gave him a small thrill. “How did you get my number?”
“I looked it up.”
“I used the Institute records. Sally’s name is still…”
“Okay, yes, I’m sorry. It’s just that…”
“You always sound in a bad mood. I may be able to cheer you up a bit. I’ve got some news about your children.”
“Karen and Tom? How do you know about them?”
“You talked about them to Dr. Wynne this afternoon.”
“That old man’s got my children at the Institute?”
“Of course he hasn’t, but I’ve been talking to someone who’s a good friend. He may be able to get them back for you.”
Sam said nothing. Panya seemed to extremely interested in his affairs. Maybe he should be flattered.
“You still there, Sam?”
“This all sounds too good to be true.”
She laughed. “There’s a catch.”
“I thought there would be.”
“This friend works for the Vatican. He’s high up. He wants you to go to Berlin for Dr. Wynne.”
“Get this straight, Panya. I’m not going to Berlin for anyone.”
“If you go to Berlin he’ll help you get your children back.”
“You’re going to have to tell me more.”
“It’s simple, Sam. Go to Berlin tomorrow and see Frau List. Persuade her to lend you the clay cylinder, then bring it round here and show it to me the moment you get back.”
Beni Mazar, Egypt
ON NIGHTS like this , Caleb decided he'd cheerfully lend his wife to a stranger in order to stay indoors by a fire -- if he had a wife. For the past few nights the desert sky to the east had been a soft glow of orange as the lights from the small town of Beni Mazar illuminated the low winter cloud. Tonight the sky was black to the horizon, with a mass of sparkling stars above. He shivered and drew the rug closer to his shoulders. It was already several degrees below freezing.
Caleb listened. He could hear a few rodents scratching their way through the dry grass, but the industrial area seemed quiet. Keeping watch at night was pointless. No one was going to come here, because nothing sensible was kept in this place. Just a few items stored by the Alexandria Packing Company. And if anyone did come, what use would an old man of fifty-one be against a gang of robbers? He spat on the dusty track that ran around the rear of the complex. Five more minutes and he’d go back to his hut and the fire.
The temperature was still falling. Caleb cursed his lack of forethought. The shoes on his feet were ancient, like his body, and the thin soles let the cold strike through unchecked. On his right he could see the unit that had recently been entered by the man with the large vehicle. This complex was falling apart. Built too far from Cairo for commercial units, only some of the buildings had ever been occupied. Light engineering. And that was a joke. Very little engineering was done, because there were no skilled craftsmen looking for work out in this God-forsaken patch. To begin with, farm workers, greedy for more money, had applied themselves to working the dangerous machinery -- until their ability to work was ruined by injuries.
Caleb shone his flashlight through the window in the door of the Alexandria Packing Company, the circle of light striking the wooden crate resting against the far wall. As he turned away, his flashlight lit up the tire tracks left in the sand by the bright blue Mitsubishi.
“May Allah be with them if they think they can profit from using this place.”
He flicked the flashlight beam across the yard and returned to his hut to throw pieces of an old packing case onto the fire. Soon the wood was blazing, showers of red sparks drifting skywards until they blended with the sapphire blue of the stars. He shook his head with an exaggerated weariness as he thought of the visit by the man in the Mitsubishi. The fire began to warm his body and he felt active again.
“Only a fool leaves his goods here with Caleb and the rats,” he said to himself as he felt for the warehouse key and shuffled his way towards the door.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
GRESLEY WYNNE turned his head away. Only slightly, so as not to make the movement noticeable. Denby Rawlins had suffered from acutely bad breath ever since they’d known each other. Late at night like this, it always seemed to get worse. Probably the herbal diet was to blame. Lately he’d noticed that Andy Olsen seemed to be sharing a common interest in the Second Partner’s remedies.
Denby Rawlins’ eyes had become red, permanently red. The condition could be caused by too much time at the computer. The Second Partner had been working on the program for nearly twelve hours today. The obstinate man refused to get his eyes tested, preferring to peer at the screen from much too close, while day in and day out Olsen tapped out masterly key-strokes on the keyboard, much as a musician would turn out awe-inspiring music on the piano.
Denby Rawlins, in spite of bad health and halitosis, had been invaluable as a founder member: a man in his middle fifties who had immediately formed a close companionship with the younger Olsen. The two had examined the prophecy and turned it from scribbled notes into a beautifully presented prediction for the future of the Middle East.
“Check that again for me, and then I’m off to bed.” Gresley Wynne pointed at the screen. As First Partner, he was painfully aware that he could never understand the programming techniques. There were times when he felt that Denby did not fully understand the workings of the computer programs either. Olsen had gone off duty early, unwell, leaving the Second Partner to shut down the system for the day.
The man with the wispy black hair and small red eyes leaned back in the chair. “It’s right,” he announced in a voice that dared the First Partner to suggest otherwise.
Gresley Wynne looked at the converging lines on the screen. The whole Mediterranean was shown in blue, with countries as far north as the Baltic Sea identified by name. From each country, north, south, east and west came a series of lines converging on Israel.
“Destruction of the people of the One God,” said the Second Partner. “Olsen is right, it is immediate.”
Gresley Wynne jabbed a finger in the center of the screen where dates and numbers appeared in close columns. “Are you sure about Olsen’s code?”
“There could be a problem, First Partner. I’ve detected a fault in the system. I don’t think it’s a virus. Even so, in case there’s going to be a systems crash I’m doing a final backup and will put the tapes in the safe.”
Wynne opened a folder of papers. “I have to say that I hadn’t expected the predictions to be happening so quickly.”
Denby Rawlins nodded enthusiastically. “The major prophecy will be fulfilled within days.” He hesitated. “If this is right.”
Wynne drew in a sharp breath. “We cannot risk a mistake. Think of William Miller. The experience of that man should be as salutary a lesson to us all.”
“Massachusetts, October twenty-second, eighteen forty-three. Miller got his followers to the top of a hill to wait for the end of the world. Fifty thousand Millerites. That’s even bigger than our mailing list. The people had given their property away to family and friends. Unfortunately they were unable to get it back when they came back down.”
“They went up the hill twice, I seem to remember.”
Wynne nodded. “Miller worked everything out from the Old Testament Book of Daniel, but he had worked it out with the Christian and not the Jewish calendar, so they were five months early. Back everyone went in March. Finished Miller, that did. The funny thing was that some of his followers kept up the movement, even though he dropped out and admitted to pride and fanaticism. There’s a moral there, Denby.”
Denby Rawlins continued to type on the keyboard. “But you are neither proud nor a fanatic. First Partner.”
Gresley Wynne tried not to show how much the response hurt. “I was thinking of the mistake the man made with the date.” He stabbed at the monitor again, making it rock backwards. “We have to be absolutely sure of our facts.”
“Olsen wants to call an immediate press conference. With your approval of course.”
“You know I’m a cautious man.”
“Quite so, First Partner, but the correlations have proved repeatable within the smallest margin of error. There is no elementary mistake like a change in the calendar. I say we go ahead and meet the press.”
“And you are happy with the Third Partner’s state of mind?”
Denby Rawlins peered through his red eyes. “I hadn’t noticed anything.” But he sounded somewhat defensive.
“Have you been giving him medication?”
The Second Partner suddenly seemed full of enthusiasm. “My herbs are endowing him with great energy. He has become a total convert to herbalism.”
“I do not want anyone relying on your brews to keep going.” Gresley Wynne examined the screen. “And, no, I am not interested in taking any.” He leaned forward to read the words.
The great light will shine in the heavens to signal the time when Aten will wipe away your enemy. A fire in the heavens, bringing death to your people like a plague. The people of the lands that befriend you will strike your enemy, destroying the ground with weapons that shine like the sun and burn the body. The mighty fire will burn up the heavens. Aten is speaking.
Gresley Wynne sighed. These words could be false. Mrs. Pulaski’s friend might discover devastating news in Berlin. He put a hand on the Second Partner’s shoulder. “You look tired, old friend. When we started the Institute we agreed to remain celibate. You had that unfortunate lapse two years ago, but I believe you have been loyal to the service of Aten since then. Perhaps you will soon find time for a break.”
The red eyes looked up from the screen. “I would like the woman.” The breathing became quickened.
Gresley Wynne laughed. “Which of the secretaries do you fancy this time?”
“I have been giving the matter much thought. The woman in the Lodge might oblige for me.”
Wynne felt surprised. “You mean Mrs. Pulaski?” He had no idea the Second Partner also found her attractive.
The Second Partner’s hands shook as he tapped on the keyboard. “It would not be the first time a woman has given herself to a priest of the temple. I believe she would be willing.”
The unsteady rhythm on the keys began to sound like the early attempts of a backward member of the typing class.
FRAU LIST sounded friendly enough on the phone when Sam rang her in the morning, and willing to spare the time to sort out the mystery of the clay cylinder. She suggested that he fly out to Berlin immediately and call at her house in the east of the city at eight o’clock that evening.
He threw his suitcase onto the back seat of his car and climbed into the driving seat.
“Sam?” The passenger door opened and a man slipped in. “I won’t keep you long.”
“Bill Tolley, why the hell do you keep turning up when I don’t need you?”
“Sam, I think I’ve misjudged you.”
“I’ve not misjudged you, Tolley. You’re a major pain in the butt.”
“Yes, okay, everyone tells me I am. You off somewhere?”
“Just mind your own business and get out of my car.”
“How did you get on at the Institute?”
Sam knew he had to be offensive. It was the only way to get people like Tolley off his back. “You’re right. Tolley, it’s a dangerous place.”
“Dr. Wynne fancies me.”
Tolley laughed. “He’s more interested in manipulating the prophecy than your beautiful body.”
“So what if he is?”
“Maybe he can manipulate world events.”
“They’re a cartload of nut cases.”
“Okay, Sam, so why have they been one hundred percent right lately?”
“Right about what?”
“They say something is going to happen, and it happens. How about we pool our resources?”
“How about I never see you again?”
“They’re dangerous, Sam. Let’s do this for each of us together.”
“Just get out of my car.”
“I’ll leave my card on the seat.” Tolley opened the door and stepped into the road.
Sam looked in his mirror as he drove away. The reporter stood there waving. He put his foot to the floor and picked up speed. He could be at Heathrow by noon, and in Berlin well before twenty hundred hours, as Frau List called it. Well, at least he and Frau List had been able to understand each other on the phone, so his German must be reasonably good. Panya should be safe while he was gone. She had those two old men at the Institute to keep an eye on her.
A PENETRATING drizzle whipped along the dark street in the Prenzlauerberg district, driven by a bitterly cold November wind. Sam paid the taxi driver and looked uneasily at his surroundings. The driver from Tegel Airport had dropped him at Unter Den Linden so he could do some shopping on the way. He’d visited a record shop and bought something for Panya. He’d even had time to get a haircut, for Panya’s sake. For Panya’s sake? What was he thinking of? It was funny how he kept thinking about the small, dark skinned woman from the Institute.
He pulled his collar up as the drizzle turned to stinging sleet. The street seemed to be a mix of cobblestones and tarmac, with houses that looked tall and depressing. In this part of old East Berlin it was difficult to believe the Wall had ever come down. There was still the occasional Trabant amongst the untidy Golfs and elderly BMWs parked by the side of the street, leaning into the gutter as though seeking protection from the buildings.
One, two, three, four, five, six floors. These massive buildings, with a mix of brick and stones, were six stories high, including the half windows below pavement level. They were probably inhabited basement rooms, all with low wattage bulbs glimmering orange through the dirt on the windows.
Sam glanced at his instructions again. Number seventeen, apartment eight. Grey trees lined the pavements, their thin bare branches looking decidedly undernourished under the street lights. A lonely figure in a dark coat hurried past him on the street as he reached Frau List’s building. Fifteen years ago the people here would probably have been indoors after dark for fear of the Stasi, the East German secret police. Now they were inside sheltering from the penetrating damp.
“This is Herr Bolt, from England.” He spoke close to the corroded aluminum speaker box.
“Ja, you may come.”
The catch buzzed and Sam pushed the heavy door inwards. In front of him he could see a dimly lit staircase running up to the first landing.
A woman’s voice called down the stairs. “This way, Herr Bolt.”
Sam climbed quickly to the third floor, hoping that he was fit enough to start a conversation without sounding short of breath. On the level above he heard a door being opened slowly, as though by a prying neighbor.
“It is kind of you to see me this evening.”
This was a drink Sam had heard of, but never tried.
“You must try Persiko, Herr Bolt. It is the best Schnapps. Sour cherry and peach. The authentic taste of Berlin.”
Sam felt disoriented. One moment he had been outside in the drizzle, becoming depressed by the tall, gloomy buildings. And now he was in a well-lit, beautifully furnished apartment. The heat from the radiators on the wall felt overpowering. “I’d love to try it,” he said in what he hoped was perfect German.
Frau List was not as elderly as he'd expected. Her gray hair, with a tinge of yellow, had been carefully coiled on top of her head. In spite of the wrinkled skin, he could see a young girl, blue eyed, golden plaits, holding a banner in a pre-war German poster advocating the benefits of a healthy life -- and membership of the Hitler Youth. He decided he'd probably read the wrong sort of books. The majority of Germans weren't like that, and perhaps never had been.
“I understand you are here to ask me some questions?” Frau List sounded extremely formal as she passed him the miniature glass of chilled Schnapps.
“Dr. Wynne from the Institute of Egyptologists has asked me to look you up.”
“So you are not connected with the government?”
He detected anxiety in Fran List’s voice and shook his head. “Do you have a problem with the government?”
“I am going to tell you a family secret, Herr Bolt. Never before have I told anyone, but there is no family left to suffer the … embarrassment.”
The Persiko caught the back of his throat. Schnapps were supposed to be tossed down in one go. This one tasted lethal. “You can trust me, Frau List.” He breathed in and his nose felt on fire. His vision began to blur. Probably the after-effects of the flight.
“Heidi,” she said. “You must call me Heidi.”
“Heidi,” he repeated. Just saying the name aloud seemed to whisk him back to a Berlin that existed six or seven decades ago.
“And I shall call you Sam. Listen while I tell you a true story of my family in the war. And of my fiancé, Josef Horst.”
“Horst? You said your name is List.”
“Ah, we never married. Josef died fighting the Russians for Berlin.”
“I am sorry,” he said dutifully. Looking at the woman he realized she wasn’t asking for pity. Self pity was always hard to take.
Heidi List reached forward with the liquor bottle, its outside glistening with condensation. “Let me refill your glass again, Sam. When you have heard what I have to say, we can both decide if it should go further than these walls.”
He gasped for breath. The second glass seemed stronger than the first.
Berlin, August 31 1940
THE SOUND of breaking pottery woke Heinrich List the cabinet maker. It was the clay cylinder falling off the hall table. No, it must not be the clay cylinder. In an instant he was on the darkened landing, straining for further sounds of the Einbrecher, the burglar.
“I have a gun,” he called, and wished his voice was louder, and wished his words could be true. The flashlight in his hand was loaded with nothing more lethal than a battery long overdue for replacement. “Stay where you are. There are soldiers in the street.”
Downstairs, and outside, he became painfully aware of a total silence. The Berliners would all be in bed, getting the first proper night’s sleep for a week. The marching soldiers who had disturbed him earlier would be back at their barracks by now.
“I am sorry, Heinrich, I seem to have made a mistake.” The soft voice calling up from the hallway had a coolness that added to Heinrich’s rising panic.
“Come out where I can see you,” Heinrich called. The dim shaft of orange from his flashlight scarcely reached the foot of the stairs.
The voice called again from below. “I hope you do not have a gun, Heinrich.”
“Wilhelm? Wilhelm Silber?” Heinrich’s voice indicated hope rather than certainty. “Is that you down there, Wilhelm?”
“Ja, Heinrich. But you must stay upstairs for your own safety.” The voice paused. Then, “You do not understand the situation.”
Heinrich began to make his cautious way down the stairs, a raincoat covering his thin body to conceal his embarrassment. “What are you doing in my house, Wilhelm?”
The situation was just too ridiculous. Wilhelm lived over two kilometers away, not here in these large properties in the Prenzlauerberg district. It wasn’t as though his friend had a key to the front door.
“I wish I could explain, Heinrich.”
The glow from the flashlight showed the small hall table tipped on its side, the two Dresden ornaments and the precious clay cylinder broken on the brown floor tiles. “I wish so too, my friend. This is most unfortunate. You seem to have broken the present for the Führer.”
Wilhelm stayed mute.
“Down there on the floor, Wilhelm. The Führer’s present from his Reich Minister of Propaganda. You have some quick answering to do before I call in the soldiers.”
“That old cylinder was for our Führer?” Wilhelm had quickly recovered his voice.
“They chose me, the old cabinet maker, to create a stand for it, Wilhelm. And still you have not told me why you are here in my house.”
Wilhelm dropped to his knees. He rose with six large pieces of curved clay in his hands. “We knocked against the table in the darkness. We thought you were away, Heinrich.”
The use of the plural went unnoticed. “And that mistaken belief allows you to enter the house of a comrade at night.”
Wilhelm Silber glanced at the floor as though searching for more pieces of the broken object. “I think perhaps you and I are no longer comrades, Heinrich.”
“I think perhaps you are right, Wilhelm.”
“The Gestapo have means of persuading us to investigate those who … even those who are friends. I am sorry, Heinrich. We came for your papers.”
“My papers?” He shone the flashlight in the intruder’s face, and for a moment the failing battery flickered brightly. “You broke in here for my papers?”
The eyes staved down, fixed on the floor. “He made me, Heinrich.”
Heinrich walked forward slowly and took hold of Wilhelm’s shaking hands lest further disaster should befall the remains of the precious gift which had not broken into as many pieces as he had feared. “I was pledged to guard this with my life, Wilhelm. I think perhaps it is my life that will be forfeit.”
A harsh blaze abruptly filled the high-ceilinged hallway as the electric light came on. A man with blond curly hair, wearing a black leather coat, waved a small handgun in Heinrich’s face.
“I agree with you, Herr List. And now you will both have to die.” The stranger’s voice seemed deliberately offensive.
Heinrich turned to Wilhelm Silber, his voice betraying fear and misunderstanding. “Who is this man with you?” But he knew. This was how the Gestapo dressed, in clothing intended to strike terror into the citizens, whatever their loyalty.
A truck passed in the street, the whine from the engine and gears almost masked by the cheerful shouting of its passengers. Workmen returning from a night of drinking. Drinking and forgetting. Drink sometimes helped men forget the war and their dead sons.
Wilhelm Silber took advantage of the momentary distraction to pick up the small table and smash it down on the head of the man of terror.
“Wilhelm!” Not even madmen challenged the rule of the Gestapo.
“Pick up his gun, Heinrich. He is not dead yet.”
Like a man in a trance Heinrich picked the Walther from the floor. “We cannot shoot him.”
“We have no choice, Heinrich. This man was going to kill you. Pass me that cushion. It will stifle the sound.”
The Gestapo man moaned as he tried to sit up. Wilhelm kicked him backwards and placed the cushion against the side of his head. The Gestapo thug kicked out violently as the bullet ripped through his skull, the muffled explosion fading away like a nightmare on waking. Gently the feathers from the cushion settled on the floor. The hallway felt stifling. Berlin was a city in hysteria, the inhabitants constantly straining for sounds of enemy bombers soaring over the massive houses that had once promised security. So much for the vain boasting of Field Marshal Göring, and his invitation to the German people to call him by the Jewish name of Meier if the British managed an air raid on Berlin.
British Air Pirates over Berlin. The headlines in yesterday’s paper had said it all. The ordinary citizens had never asked for this war. The Führer would be addressing the people in the Berlin Sportpalast in five days’ time, to raise funds for the Winter Relief Campaign. Heinrich knew the event would be well attended. Now that the war had started, he’d observed a certain eagerness among Berliners for victory. As he looked at the dead figure of authority lying on his hall floor, the stupidity of Wilhelm’s actions became clearer by the minute.
Wilhelm Silber began to shake. “We must hide him.”
Heinrich went to the door to switch off the light. With the curtains open, any passing man in authority could insist on entry for contravention of the blackout. And how would they explain a dead Gestapo officer with a hole in his head? Yesterday a young man from Goebbels’ ministry had called here unexpectedly. He had been most friendly. The cylinder, some ancient Egyptian trophy, was to be a present for the Führer himself. And why would Herr Hitler want such an old fossil? Heinrich List had not been given the answer to that question. The young man informed him he would be wise to keep his nose out of such things and just make the plinth with the best craftsmanship possible. And guard it.
Guard it with his life.
Which he hadn’t done.
The yellow light flicked across the face of the Einbrecher. “I think I have some explaining to do, Heinrich.”
“I think so too, my friend. This is most unfortunate. You break into my house with a member of the Gestapo, smash the Führer’s present, and then leave me with a corpse.”
“You have a cellar, Heinrich?”
The flashlight beam flickered across the dead figure in the black coat, before the battery finally succumbed. “What are you thinking, Wilhelm? You think we can conceal the crime?”
“I have never seen this man before tonight. He met me in a bar not more than an hour ago. I did not know why, but he had my name in his notebook. Like you, I have not been entirely sympathetic to the Nazi movement. We talked about my family, and about my friends. He wanted to know about you.”
“I was unable to stop myself telling him that I know where you keep your papers, and your diaries with your bitter opinions on Hitler. He made an instant decision to come here, Heinrich. His superiors will not know of his movements tonight. Do you understand? No one saw. No one knows. There is nothing to connect the man with your house. You have a cellar, ja?”
“It is strange that Goebbels’ staff do not know what each of them is doing. In daylight the young Captain Horst comes here to entrust me with work for the Führer, and at night another comes to investigate my allegiance. They are fools. We must hope you are right, and they do not know this man’s movements.”
He paused, and looked up the stairs as he heard a small creak from the floorboards on the landing. He held his breath but heard nothing more. “We must be quiet or my granddaughter Heidi will wake.”
Fifteen minutes later the hated symbol of oppression in the black coat was on his way to the cellar, the blond blood-stained head banging from stair to stair as the two elderly men dragged the body down into the blackness.
“Tomorrow I will start to dig the hole,” said Heinrich, making his way to the kitchen tap. “There is no hurry. The cellar is cold.” His hands, although free of blood, felt infected with the essence of Nazism.
“Heinrich, old comrade, we must pretend that this night never existed.” Wilhelm’s eyes looked wet with tears. “Somehow the cylinder must be mounted and delivered on time. I know of a man who restores art. Make sure the curtains are tightly closed, and we can turn on the light. I know a man who can join these pieces with an invisible glue.”
Heinrich returned from the window to put the pieces of pottery safely on the embroidered cloth that covered the walnut dining table. “If there was an invisible glue, we cabinet makers would be using it every day. Invisible glue. You believe in fairy tales, Wilhelm!”
“The man has done much work for the Party. He is in the army now, in Norway, but he is currently on leave in Berlin. Does Schleswig Cathedral mean anything to you?”
Heinrich checked the heavy curtains. “The restorers found turkeys there.”
“Ah, the turkeys.” Wilhelm Silber smiled. With his lined features lit from below by the table lamp he seemed almost sinister, though the smile was genuine. “Do pictures of turkeys found on a thirteenth century wall prove that our worthy Aryan ancestors reached the Americas before Columbus?”
“That is what the Party says.” Heinrich shrugged his shoulders. “And you know the man responsible?”
“The man responsible for the Cathedral restoration? Ja.”
“And he restores ancient pottery?”
“He owes me a favor. I can put pressure on a man who has been party to some clever faking during his restoration.”
Wilhelm examined the pieces of terra cotta clay under the lamp. “We will try to glue the pieces back together, but if it cannot be repaired successfully, I know a man with a kiln. He can make a clay blank, then Lothar can copy these hieroglyphics before it is baked.”
“And make everything look old?”
“Yes, Heinrich, and make everything look old, by rubbing dirt into the finished cylinder.”
“Lothar, you say? Lothar Malskat, the famous assistant of the Fey partnership? He is here in Berlin on leave from the army?” Heinrich took a section of the broken pottery. I will try to mend it tonight, but if I am not successful you must wake the man up before breakfast. There are many tiny figures painted on the clay. Each one will have to be copied faithfully. Use any pressure necessary to persuade Lothar to comply. If my attempts at reconstruction tonight are not good enough, our lives will depend on the success of the reproduction.”
“And no one will know, apart from the two of us.”
Wilhelm smiled. “The Führer will not be disappointed. We will see to it, my friend.”
Heinrich List switched off the table lamp and peeped through the curtains. Outside in the street there was total darkness. The soldiers and workmen had long gone. He twisted his head in an attempt to see the sky, fearful of British bombers. “You came here and entered my house because they made you do it. I understand that, Wilhelm. These are hard times, and we all obey the voice of fear.”
“I appreciate your understanding,” said Wilhelm, relief in his voice. “We must work as a team now. One does not lightly destroy or remake gifts for the glorious Führer.”
Heinrich shook his head. “I shall have to tell Captain Horst. He is coming tomorrow to watch me make the plinth.”
“You must put him off.”
“You expect me to tell Goebbels’ man not to come to my house?”
“Then we shoot him too.”
Heinrich raised a hand. “Not so fast, my friend. Captain Horst seems extremely interested in my granddaughter Heidi. I think perhaps that is why he chose me to make the plinth, to enable him to see my granddaughter again. I have sometimes seen them walking in the park. And yesterday I caught them talking in the kitchen.”
“What are we to do?” Wilhelm wrung his hands.
“I shall tell Captain Horst everything. I believe him to be a man of honor.”
“And also a man who dreams of Heidi,” added Wilhelm.
Heinrich laughed. “Every man has his flaw. However faithful the copy, we have to make sure the new cylinder is kept away from the prying eyes of the museum experts who have already validated the original. Their certificate of validation will stay with our reproduction. Captain Horst must hand everything to Hitler personally.”
September 4, 1940
“IT CAME FROM our embassy in Cairo, my Führer.”
Josef Horst felt sick as he repeated the carefully prepared lie. The Josef who should be here making this presentation was Josef Goebbels, Reiehsminister fur Volkserklarung und Propaganda, not one of his minions. It was as though the great man knew about the switch and was staying out of sight to protect his reputation -- even his life -- if the deception should fail.
Adolf Hitler’s face broke into a smile. “Your name is Horst, did you say? I have heard much about you in the Ministry.”
The intense interest shown by Hitler helped Horst keep his head. He was doing this for Heidi, not for her grandfather. “Thank you, my Führer. This ancient object came from our embassy in Cairo, along with the reports on Mussolini’s activities in Libya.”
For a moment the smile faded. “Mussolini? That man wants two more years before he is ready with his obsolete air force and navy. But we will show him who calls the tunes, Horst.” The glow on the face returned as Hitler carefully examined the cylinder on its polished wooden plinth. “And this is really for me?”
“Yes, my Führer. The clay cylinder contains an ancient Egyptian prophecy that the ambassador thought appropriate. He believes you are the man destined to fulfill the words.”
“Then you must read it to me. I have been too busy lately to learn to decipher hieroglyphics.” It was almost certainly a joke, but Horst thought it best to return the smile cautiously, without comment.
An official photographer stepped forward and Horst stared at the camera as he held his head erect. He would give a copy of the photograph to Heidi List when he took her to the cinema on Saturday night. She really fancied him. He knew it for sure. Never before had such a beautiful girl thrown herself so willingly into his arms.
“You may read it for me, Horst.” Just a hint of impatience.
Josef Horst quickly returned to earth. “I have a written translation here, my Führer. The experts in the Berlin Museum of Antiquities confirm the translation that accompanied it from Cairo. It says, Aten speaks. When the shadow of the Eagle falls across the land, the Man of Power in the West will rule the nations of the world. The nations of the North, the East and the South will bow down before him. Listen, O doubters. Listen to me. Aten is speaking.”
Josef Horst glanced up, expecting a nod of approval. Instead, he witnessed the smile vanish from the great face.
“The Man of Power in the West will rule the nations of the world? Does this mean America?”
Horst realized he should have prepared the ground better. “To an Egyptian, my Führer, Germany would be to the west. And Russia is to their north.”
Slowly, slowly, the smile began to return. “I like it, Horst. Yes, I like it. A prophecy for today. The Nation of the North will bow down. Russia? Indeed that could be true. And the East? Japan? The shadow of the Eagle. Der Adlerangriffe? Our planned attacks on England? Or is it to be victory through Egypt?”
“I am only a captain, my Führer.” The tension was appalling.
“Maybe not just a captain for long, Horst.” The Führer’s smile had fully returned. “And this was really painted by the ancients?”
“Undoubtedly, my Führer. Here is the certificate of authenticity from the experts at the Berlin museum.” The conspiracy seemed to be running to plan. At least the paint was dry.
“And the embassy intended it for my hands?”
Horst could not bring himself to look up. “Of course, my Führer.”
“Excellent. I will thank my ambassador in Cairo personally. I now have to address the people at the rally, while it is still light. We cannot put our people in danger from the Air Pirates. The Winterhilfe campaign is a necessary part of our love and care for the people. Come, Horst, you may sit near me on the platform as a reward for excellent service. See how my people respond to my words. Mussolini is an ill-prepared fool, but soon he will dance to my tune. Already the British are busy setting up defenses in the desert.”
A party official nodded, indicating that the German leader should take his place.
Josef Horst watched as the Führer of the Third Reich turned the plinth holding the fragile cylinder in his hands. The clay looked old, and the recently painted symbols -- the hieroglyphic text -- seemed to the untrained eye as ancient as the early history of civilized man. The man of power in Germany handed the object back to Horst for safe keeping, then slowly and deliberately drew himself to attention, obviously preparing mentally for the speech ahead. Then he looked down. "If the Man of Power in the West is to fulfill this prophecy, it seems he must perhaps start in Egypt. What do you say, young Horst."
The young captain was too wise to offer an opinion.
What Josef Horst could witness from first hand was the way the Führer reached the hearts of the masses crammed into the Berlin Sportpalast. Most had probably only come out of duty, for to snub the Winterhilfe Campaign was to risk one’s livelihood. But when the leader of the Third Reich spoke, even the cynical became hushed and attentive.
The speech turned to the promised invasion of Britain. A tremendous humor flowed through the Führer’s delivery. “In England they are filled with curiosity and keep asking, ‘Why doesn’t he come? Why doesn’t he come?’ Be calm. Be calm. He’s coming! He’s coming!”
The crowd became ecstatic, the women especially so. But the Führer’s mind was on a promise from the past. The Man of Power in the West. His invasion of England, Operation Sea Lion, was unlikely to succeed. Nor did it need to. As a student of prophecy and the occult, he recognized that there was a better way to achieve world domination. According to the prophecy on the clay cylinder, the answer lay in Egypt.
Four weeks later he ordered Rommel into North Africa.
“JOSEF DIED in April nineteen forty-five, three weeks before we were to be married,” said Heidi List. “The Russians overran his post fifty kilometers to the east of here.”
Sam could feel the three glasses of Berlin Persiko eating away at the back of his nose as well as into his stomach lining. “What happened to the Gestapo officer?”
“I went downstairs early the next morning. There were feathers from a cushion in the hall, and the door to the cellar was locked. That is how I knew it was not a bad dream.”
“What did your grandfather say?”
“Perhaps he suspected I knew, but it stayed an unspoken secret. We had many such unspoken secrets in the war. It was the only way for families to protect themselves.”
“I’ve booked into a hotel nearby,” said Sam. “I ought to be going soon.” As he got to his feet he felt unsteady.
Heidi List laughed gently. “Too many Schnapps I think. If you go outside into the cold air you will probably fall over.”
“You will stay here with me, Sam.”
He felt himself nod in hazy agreement. “Is this the house where it happened?”
Heidi List shook her head slowly. “The house is only two streets away. It is empty now. Next month the builders are due to begin renovating it. There is much building work taking place in Berlin. Everyone wants luxury apartments now.” She laughed more loudly this time. “Fifteen years ago we only wanted apartments. Now we all want opulence.”
He gripped the edge of the chair to stop the room swaying. Heidi List must have been quick off the mark with her shopping when the Wall came down. This apartment was surely more luxurious than most over in the western half of the city.
“We will go to the house early tomorrow morning. If we go in daylight we will not attract attention.”
His brain still felt alert, in spite of the liquor. “Attention?”
“Wilhelm and my grandfather had the cylinder repaired, but they quickly judged it not to be good enough to fool the Führer that it was found in that condition. Someone from the Cairo embassy might have seen it and tell Hitler that it was not broken when it was sent. Many years later, my grandfather told me he wrapped it in oilskin and buried it with the Gestapo man. When we find it, you can take it back to England as proof that this is the genuine cylinder, which will prove that the one at the Institute of Egyptologists is a fake. That is when I will be able to find peace from the years of anxiety we all suffered.”
“So what are we planning to do?”
“You are going to dig up the body. Surely that is why you are here.”
CLOUDS OF SPRAY gusted from the large trucks in an opaque deluge, making driving slow and hazardous on the M4 and M5 freeways from Heathrow in the west of London. Motorways they called them over here. Admiral Grant Spaxley remembered attending several press briefings in London, but the weather had always been fine, apparently untypical of the English climate. Well, if this was regular British weather, they could keep it.
According to the sign a mile back this was Golden Valley, but he was unable to see either the gold or the valley in the dark. He tried to remember who had told him that this was a part of old England not to be missed. Virginia at its worst was never as somber as this stronghold of the wealthy English.
The divided highway ran past the unattractive buildings of GCHQ, brightly lit behind high security fencing. The place looked more like a wartime army camp than a state of the art surveillance center, in spite of the new glass palace commonly known as the Doughnut. Somewhere ahead lay the Regency spa town of Cheltenham.
At the large traffic circle he checked carefully in the rearview mirror as he made two slow circuits. Kramer had given a strong warning about the dangers of being tailed, and he’d taken it as a bit of an insult. Although he’d never been involved in true surveillance work when he’d worked at Langley, he’d read plenty. Even a rookie knew not to pick up a tail.
“There’s a booking for me,” he told the hotel receptionist at the old, privately run hotel on the edge of town. “The name is Grant. Mr. S. Grant.” The change-about of name was a precaution of his own making. He never felt sure he’d answer quickly enough if someone called out a totally fictitious name. This way, hearing Grant or Spaxley, he’d always make an instant, unsuspicious response.
“The other gentlemen are already in the reserved dining room, Mr. Grant,” said the elderly woman at reception. He’d bet all the staff here were as old as her. All probably as old as the building. “I’ll show you to your room,” she said with a smile, not attempting to pick up his luggage. Fortunately there was an elevator. “While you’re getting ready, I’ll let the others know you’ve arrived.”
Fifteen minutes later Spaxley had unpacked, showered and joined his associates. A mere quarter of an hour to get ready. Not bad for a retired White House press man.
“This is the Admiral.”
Spaxley nodded to each of the four in turn. The self-confident American doing the introductions was Endermann, a big bully of a man with dark curly hair and a bushy mustache who had put on at least twenty pounds since they'd last met. Endermann was a contract operator for the Company. Spaxley knew him from his White House days, and still found it hard to tolerate him. The man was trying to manipulate the press in England, and making a mess of it -- according to the hints Kramer had dropped.
Endermann introduced a younger man, a balding Lebanese Arab, the explosives expert who was simply identified as Ahmed, a man holding a large glass of red wine. Then there was Stephan, a Russian in his early fifties who Endermann said had been a staunch KGB man before going solo. Spaxley nodded in approval.
The fourth member to greet Spaxley was a young Englishman in his late twenties, simply called Mr. Withington. He had a weak face and appeared nervous, sitting with his back to the door. No field agent ever kept his back to a door. He was doubtless local: a suspicion confirmed when Endermann explained that Withington was not staying the night.
“I’m not used to all this cloak and dagger stuff, Mr. Spaxley,” said Withington quietly. “I hope you weren’t followed.”
Such an immature question. Spaxley guessed Withington was a desk man from GCHQ down the road, and from the look of him probably recruited for this job against his better judgment. People like Endermann had ways of doing that, and most of them involved the discovery of serious sexual misdemeanors.
Spaxley straightened his cutlery as he glanced around the circular table. The others at the table had already started on their main course. The journey from Heathrow had taken much longer than he’d anticipated. The hotel was only partly occupied, and their table was in a large, ornate room reserved for private functions. The five of them seated here looked lost under the Adam style plasterwork on the dark green walls. Endermann had their rooms booked for a fortnight, but thought they’d all be out within the week.
Spaxley put his spoon down. This was Regency decadence in its original form, almost unchanged since the Prince Regent sat on the English throne in the 1820s. Well preserved, and definitely original. A multi-national hotel chain striving for the authentic flavor of the past would never have been able to achieve this splendor without succumbing to the temptation to reinvent historical style using plastic in generous quantities. He had to admire the planning that had gone into finding this venue. This conservative hotel made a good safe house. There would be no computer-based booking system linked to outlets around the world.
Anyway, why would anyone in security be interested in a private business meeting in Cheltenham, England?
Spaxley turned to Withington. He needed to stamp his authority on the gathering. “You’re the local boy, I imagine. GCHQ?”
A look of alarm came over Withington, and he turned to Endermann. “I thought…”
Endermann smiled. “We’re all friends together at this table, Withington.” He looked at Spaxley. “Mr. Withington is our expert on communications. He has an advanced set of electronics kit in my room.”
The young man from GCHQ began to relax. Maybe he appreciated being a key figure.
“The Institute has to go public this week.” Endermann wiped around the edge of his plate with the knife. “This gravy is pretty good. All natural, I’d bet. Beats the chemical brew they use back home. I’m off to Cairo.” He waved his knife at Spaxley. “The thing you’ve got to do, Admiral, is ensure that the media take the Institute of Egyptologists seriously while I’m gone. The clock is already running, so there can be no possibility of failure.”
“Then stop the clock,” Spaxley suggested.
Endermann shook his bull head. “There’s an eclipse of the moon due. We have to work to a tight schedule to launch the Eagle of Darkness during the eclipse. It’s all in the prophecies.”
Spaxley glanced up as the waiter entered the room. The soup had been good, warming, but it was time to move on to the next course. Endermann seemed to be talking garbage. “Just tell me what I have to do.”
Endermann spoke quietly to Spaxley as soon as they were alone again, while the others in the group carried on eating. “Ahmed here has several surprises in store for Egypt.” He nodded towards the Lebanese Arab whose bald head glistened under the light from the dusty chandelier directly overhead. The man was now into his second bottle of Bordeaux red. “If he manages to stay sober.”
THE STABBING DRIZZLE continued to blast down the German street the next morning. Sam hoped the damp and cold would keep the people indoors, so their journey to the house of horrors would not attract attention. Heidi List put on a determined look as she led the way, keeping close to the high buildings.
“We will buy a spade at the hardware shop,” she said, turning to Sam who had dropped behind slightly.
“And a pick axe,” he added, feeling he was being drawn into an ill-advised plan. His head felt clearer now. The Schnapps seemed to have no long lasting effect.
“Ja, and a pick. I will do the talking. I am known in the shop, and they will ask no prying questions. I will let you choose what to buy.”
The woman serving in the hardware shop allowed Sam to select the goods unhindered while she chatted with Heidi List.
“This is my odd job man. He is English, and lazy.” Heidi List nodded towards Sam. “Over here for work, yet he wants to do nothing. For the past week he has been eating my food and drinking my coffee, and promising to do some repairs in my yard.” She gestured with her arms and shoulders. “In the end I have been reduced to purchasing the tools myself, just to get him to do anything.”
The elderly assistant tutted in sympathy. Heidi List was not finished yet. “An old woman like me, reduced to buying tools to get some essential work carried out on her house. Next thing I know, he will be asking me to do it myself.”
Sam shook his head in despair at this totally unnecessary cover story. “These will do,” he said swiftly. The tools were not the most expensive, but were adequate for a one-off job in a cellar.
“Come,” said Heidi List loudly as soon as she had paid by cash. “No breaks for coffee. I will watch you while you work.” And she took Sam by the arm.
There was little traffic outside. Fran list put her umbrella at an angle, protecting herself from the driving damp that met them head on. “I am sorry to have sounded so severe,” she said without so much as a smile. “It was necessary to maintain a strictly working relationship, or they would have been suspicious in the shop. Why would a woman like me be buying digging tools?”
Yes , why -- apart from looking for bodies of dead Gestapo officers. But he merely nodded in agreement.
Heidi List seemed to be an avid reader of spy stories, or maybe she had suffered at the hands of the Stasi. She doubled back twice, ending up in a cobbled street a long way from the hardware shop. Her tactics even had Sam glancing apprehensively over his shoulder, but no one was taking the slightest notice of two damp citizens. He shouldered the pick axe, and started to sing quietly. “Hi ho, hi ho——” but Heidi List interrupted him.
“This is the house. We will go in.” From her purse she produced a large key and opened the front door which had been painted over the years with various shades of blue that were now peeling in large flakes.
Sam glanced up at the building before he was pushed inside. The terraced house was tall, like Heidi List’s, but the condition of this and the adjoining buildings made the street look almost derelict. Builders had erected scaffolding on some of the houses, although there was no sign of work being carried out anywhere.
In the large hallway he stepped past two broken packing crates, a filthy roll of carpet and an untidy pile of newspapers. He looked up the stairs, imagining Heidi List as a teenage girl in the war, trying to see down into the hall. The man in the black coat, the broken cylinder, the cushion, the muffled shot. Feathers on the brown floor tiles.
Dry leaves from the street littered the floor now.
“Here.” Heidi List opened a door that led to the cellar. She flicked a light switch and a yellow light from a single bulb showed the way down a flight of stone steps. “We will start straight away.”
No coffee breaks, Sam mimicked in his mind. Heidi List was probably every bit as tough as her act in the hardware shop.
Old oilcloth covered the cellar floor, a type on linoleum he’d seen in his grandparents’ house as a child, stained and cracked here to reveal the outline of the uneven flagstones underneath.
“We will dig … at this point.”
“We?” Sam stuck the sharp corner of the spade into the linoleum and ripped a long slit. As he peeled the floor covering back, a putrid smell of old drains rose from the flagstones underneath. White, spidery lines crisscrossed the smooth black stone.
Heidi List put a handkerchief to her face. “You must excuse me if I sound abrupt, Sam. This is a traumatic time for me.”
“And for me, if there’s a body down there.” He pulled the last piece of rotting linoleum clear of the floor to expose a large area of flagstones.
Heidi List tapped her heel on one of the stones and unexpectedly spoke in English. “Here is digging, please.” The poor English probably reflected her anxiety. She smiled at him, a quick smile that seemed like a desperate cry for support. “I will retire to the stairs.”
He handed her his jacket and took the pick in both hands. Rather than smash through the flagstone he pressed the wide end of the blade into the join with the next stone, and levered back. A small chip of stone broke away, but nothing moved.
He tried again, and the same thing happened.
“Use some force, Herr Bolt. We must not be long.” The old woman spoke in German again.
He swung the point of the pick down hard on the center of the flat stone. A thin crack appeared across it. Once more, and the stone was in two parts. The broad blade now went easily into the original join, a broken slab of stone rising as he pulled back on the wooden shaft. The soil underneath looked like brown clay, and the smell of old drains became even stronger.
With four flagstones removed he broke up the soil with the pick, then began to shovel it away with the spade. If there was a body here, it was deep. He was already down a good eighteen inches.
At three feet the soil became sticky, with a nauseating, yet distressingly sweet stench. It was then he saw the black leather.
Heidi List came forward to look into the hole, the handkerchief still to her mouth and nose. She dropped Sam’s jacket on the door and put both hands to her face. “Oh mein Gott! This is terrible.”
He bent down, getting closer to the smell. “Do you want me to go on?” He felt like getting his own handkerchief out. When people talked about the smell of death, they probably didn’t imagine anything like this.
“Please continue, Sam. I must be sure there is a body as well as clothing.”
“There’s a body all right.” Sam could see the scalp, surrounded by blond hair that had fallen away from the skin in large clumps. The soil immediately around the body looked a dark bluish green rather than brown. This was more grisly than anything he’d anticipated.
Hesitantly he reached into the hole and caught hold of a black leather sleeve to move the man’s arm. The revolting musky smell changed to ammonia that made his eyes water. Underneath the arm he could something wrapped in oilskin, stained dark by the decomposing body. He retrieved it, stood up, and carefully unrolled the package. Yes, it was the Egyptian cylinder. It was just possible to make out miniature Egyptian hieroglyphics, but no real colors. Everything was brown. He ran his thumb over the surface. “The whole outside of the clay seemed to be covered in finely engraved rings, or maybe a tightly packed spiral.
Upstairs a door rattled and Heidi List gasped in alarm. But it was only the door at the top of the cellar stairs swinging shut.
“Leave the body where it is and fill the hole in, please,” she said. “We will go from here as soon as you have finished. You have the clay pot, and I have been reviving terrible memories.”
Sam moved forward to comfort the woman.
“No, Sam, you do not understand. The body does not upset me. I am remembering Josef. He was here in this house so many times in the war. We came to this cellar for secret meetings once we were engaged. There was … an old sofa down here.”
Sam kept his thoughts to himself. A love nest, with a blond Gestapo officer slowly decomposing under the flagstones below the amorous couple. Perhaps in war people accepted violent death.
“We will relay the floor and disguise our being here. Then we can take the tools and leave them with the builders’ equipment outside a house in the next street.”
Sam looked at the wooden handles on the tools. If he had any sense he’d wipe off his fingerprints before dumping the spade and pick. There was no way the next occupants of this house would overlook the ripped floor covering and uneven flagstones in the cellar.
“RIGHT, GENTLEMEN, it is agreed.” Endermann looked at the assembled group. “We work as a team to kick-start this prophecy quickly.”
“It seems so amateurish,” added Spaxley, hoping to dominate the group.
“Admiral,” said Endermann with a forced smile, “Operation Oracle stalled over a year ago. You’re the new boy round here, so just listen and take notes. I have to be moving out soon, and for some unknown reason Kramer wants you to handle the press.”
“You don’t need to tell me my job,” Spaxley snapped. “I just hope you’ve done your homework and made sure the hotel staff don’t know why we’re here. I prefer to be secure.”
“Secure?” said Endermann. “They think we’re planning to launch a new shaver onto the English market. All you need worry your old head about is Dr. Wynne.”
“Does he know I’m coming?”
“I’ll get Olsen to tell Dr. Wynne he’s expecting a friend who’s red hot with the press,” said Endermann. “That will give you a foot in the door. When you get there, take an interest in the Institute’s work. Then tell Dr. Wynne he has to call a press conference quickly. With a bit of luck he’ll think you’re another gift from Aten. Brief the man on what to say, but make sure you stay out of sight. Some of those press boys may know your face.”
“So everything depends on my timing?” said Spaxley.
“Now, Admiral, let’s understand that you’re just a part of this team. If the Institute of Egyptologists announce details of the latest prophecy too early, the world powers will be able to take action. The prophecy must be fulfilled no more than twenty-four hours after the Institute goes public” Endermann turned to the others. The overweight CIA freelancer looked full of self-importance. “Gentlemen, Ahmed is arranging some prophesied fun and games in Cairo.”
Spaxley forgot the fireplace and wondered if Kramer knew what was going on over here.
“Fun?” asked Spaxley, looking at Ahmed but getting no response. The man seemed to be suffering the effects of too much red wine.
Iran, Iraq. The involvement of the U.N. was only just proving sufficient to hold the brittle peace. “I take it there isn’t actually going to be a nuclear bomb. Just the threat.”
“Make no mistake, Admiral, a thermo-nuclear explosion is going to light up the Egyptian sky.”
“You’ve got nukes?” Spaxley felt his breath being taken away.
“It’s what we call a suitcase bomb,” grinned Endermann. “Small enough to handle, but big enough to devastate a large piece of the Nile valley. How about we call it the Star of Bethlehem?”
Spaxley felt himself being drawn into Kramer’s crazy plan. He nodded. “The press will love it. But what happens then?”
Endermann opened his hands. “Once the nuclear dust settles, the finger will be pointed fairly and squarely at the Jews.”
“Is this Kramer’s plan or yours?” asked Spaxley, starting to feel uneasy again. Surely Endermann and Ahmed weren’t really going to explode a thermo-nuclear device in Egypt. “Kramer said Jew’s gold ruined your family.”
Endermann turned angrily. “They ruined everything . I got talking with Kramer when we both lost friends -- after the hijacked plane hit the Pentagon back in nine-eleven when the terror started. We both hated the Jews. Kramer had been driving himself crazy for a couple of years, trying to think of a way to destroy the Jews. Operation Oracle took off after those first terrorist attacks. It was like a light shining in the darkness."
“Sounds like you’ve got a problem with Israel,” grunted Spaxley. “Are you blaming the Jews for everything that’s wrong in the world?”
For a moment Endermann looked uncomfortable. Then he hit the table with his closed fist. “My family was German. They lived in Leipzig in the nineteen thirties, before the war. They collected gold from the Jewish refugees when they tried to leave Germany once things got too hot for them.”
“Do you mean they stole it?” Spaxley decided the time had come to bring Endermann down.
“Those refugees needed money, Admiral. My family acquired the Jews’ gold and gave them the money they needed for travel.”
“How fortunate for them that your family was around,” commented Spaxley dryly.
“It brought us bad luck. My grandparents emigrated to the States after the war. They had money, big money, and my father inherited it all when they died. Then when I was nineteen my father ran back to Germany with another woman. Left my mother with nothing. I had to drop out of university, sell the family home. Can you imagine the humiliation it brought me?”
“And you blame the Jews for that?” asked Spaxley.
“The gold was cursed. The Jews cursed it before they sold it. Kramer was right: Jews’ gold tore my family apart.”
“What about you?” Spaxley asked Ahmed, who was still at the table where he had started another bottle of wine in defiance of Endermann.
“I am Lebanese,” Ahmed said quietly. “The Israeli army invaded Lebanon in nineteen eighty-two. They killed my wife. They killed my baby son who was still playing with his first birthday presents. All I want now is revenge for my family.”
Spaxley started to appreciate just how deeply the feelings were running. “And you, Stephan? You were with the KGB. I thought the Russians and Arabs don’t get along too well.”
“I have access to the military hardware for this operation,” said Stephan. He paused. “I’m in it for the money,” he added, without a trace of shame. “I’d help al-Qa’ida if they paid me enough.”
“May God have mercy on us.” Spaxley turned away. These men were terrorists, and he had been dragged into a plot dreamed up by a frustrated CIA operator who couldn’t get the promotion he coveted. There was no way he could back out now. But terrorists or not, there was good work here, and a chance to outshine Endermann. “What happens after Ahmed blows the mosque?” he asked.
Endermann grinned. “The Star of Bethlehem shines over Egypt.”
“And then?” asked Spaxley.
Endermann stood up. “The Eagle of Darkness arrives during the lunar eclipse. And that, Admiral, will seal Israel’s fate forever.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
SAM NOTICED that Panya was wearing her long black dress when she opened the door to him. The first thing she did was comment on his haircut. It seemed she approved.
“I’ve brought you a little something back from the corner of Unter den Linden and Friedrich Strasse,” he told her. “It’s a fantastic place. You can see the Brandenburg Gate at one end, and the Zeughaus at the other. It’s a long, long avenue. I found an amazing music shop. I know you’ve got a CD player. We played Max Bruch the other night.”
Panya laughed easily. “I hope you didn’t think I was out of touch with the world when we first met.” She glanced to the large hi-fi unit on the bookcase, “Although I admit I still play vinyl sometimes.” She tried to reach behind his back. “A present?”
“C’sadas,” he said, producing the CD. “Gypsy violin music from Hungry.”
Panya gave a warm smile. “Great. Did you get anything for yourself?”
“Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. Brass. None of those squeaky recorders that remind me of school. I had to buy the CD once I’d seen the Brandenburg Gate.”
Panya cut the wrapping from her CD with a small pair of nail scissors. “Is it okay if I play it now?”
“It’s what I bought it for.”
As hot-blooded gypsy music filled the small room, Sam launched into his account of Frau List’s gruesome secret. “Is that enough for the Vatican to get my children back for me?” he asked when he’d finished.
Panya avoided answering and went into the kitchen to make some coffee. “Tell me more about your children,” she called.
He went in to join her. “Tom; he’s two. And Karen; she’s just four. It was Karen’s birthday last week. I sent her a present care of the local council. I’ve no idea if she got it.”
“Don’t you see them very often?”
“I don’t see them ever.” What the hell, there was nothing to lose by letting Panya know everything. Did it really matter what she thought of him? They weren’t going anywhere together. “Sally worked here at the Institute,” he explained. “Said she wanted a bit of space to herself. She always left the children at a playgroup when she was working.” He knew Panya was watching him closely.
“Sounds sensible,” she said.
“On her way back from work she bought ten lottery tickets. Won over two million with one of them.”
“I heard something about it from the secretaries here.” Panya looked embarrassed. “To be honest, I asked.”
“Then you’ll know the lottery company put her in touch with a financial advisor. The first thing he did was advise her that the winnings were all hers.”
“It gets worse. Sally told her work colleagues that she was going to the bank to sort out her account. I was an airline pilot for a budget airline. I was on a flight back from Rome and I got a frantic radio message from the airline saying that the playgroup was asking if anyone was going to collect Karen and Tom. By the time I got home that night, the children were in the care of the local council. I phoned the police but they weren’t interested. Just told me to get in touch the next morning if Sally still hadn’t turned up. I phoned them at nine-thirty the next morning. They called at eleven to interview me. Social Services came round at twelve to say that they were keeping Karen and Tom in care until our domestic situation was resolved. I haven’t been allowed to see either of them since.”
“They surely don’t think you’ve done anything to Sally.”
“I’d only just finished landscaping the back garden, so the police decided to have a look under it. I don’t know where Sally’s put the money, so why would I do away with her?”
“Have the police charged you?”
“ They've given up thinking I'm guilty -- until they find a body. But Social Services say they'll only return the children if Sally turns up safe and well. I've lost my job, and I'm saddled with a mortgage on the house."
“I guess you’d have them back.”
“Karen and Tom. Not Sally.”
“I’d love to meet the children. Surely they should be with you, not in care.”
“Social Services suspect I’m a maniac killer, but haven’t the courage to say it to my face. I used to be an airline pilot, so they’re using that as an excuse. Said I’d never be home long enough to care for the children properly. Even though I’ve lost my job, they’re still making excuses.”
“You don’t look like an airline pilot.” said Panya warily.
He laughed. "No uniform? Perhaps I'll get another flying job -- if this nightmare is ever over -- and then you can see me in my gold braid. What about your life story?"
Panya shook her head. “I don’t think I could tell you. Not after hearing that.”
But he was determined to find out something about this dark-skinned woman. “If you’re Mrs. Pulaski, you must he married.”
“James. We met while I was a missionary in East Africa.”
For a moment he felt embarrassed. The thought of Panya being a missionary was unexpected. “Pulaski. Wasn’t Colonel Pulaski a hero in the American Civil War?”
“I think so, but he’s nothing to do with James’s family. James’s grandparents came from Poland. They landed at Ellis Island in nineteen thirty-four.”
He looked around the room for signs of male occupation, but saw nothing. “Is James the high-up in the Church who’s doing this deal to find me my children?”
Panya shook her head. “When we met in East Africa, James was employed by a civil engineering company, constructing a water pipeline for local villages. He proposed to me one night under the stars. We married six months later and went to the Middle East, just the two of us, helping get water supplies to isolated communities. It was dangerous work.”
“The natives were hostile?” He sank back into the armchair. The events in Berlin had made him sleepy, and for a moment he was unaware of the unhappiness in Panya’s voice.
“My church back home sponsored us. Our work was a combination of helping the people, and sharing our faith. Nothing heavy. If they weren’t interested in hearing the Gospel, at least they got their water.” Panya laughed gently. Then she breathed in deeply. “Nothing illegal in it, but an extreme religious sect took exception. Gave James a beating. He never recovered. He…”
“They killed him?”
“He died before it got dark.” Panya bit her lip. “The embassy packed me home to the States on the next plane.”
“You must be bitter.”
“ I was angry. Very angry. They didn't only beat James, they wanted me -- if you get my meaning. And there were a lot of them."
He shook his head, trying to understand what the rape must have meant to Panya.
“They hurt me inside. I can never have children.”
He remembered saying something insensitive about having children when they’d first met. “It must be tough.”
“I’m learning to forgive. James was a lovely man.” Panya stood up. “I’ll get you a piece of cake.”
He watched her open a tin and cut a slice of fruitcake. “No one can just forgive,” he insisted. “It’s not that easy.”
She turned, the knife in her hand. “I never said it was easy. I shouted at God for weeks. I think he understood in the end.”
Sam shook his head, realizing how little he understood Panya. “You’re the first missionary I’ve met. I didn’t even know there were such people nowadays. There’s only one thing I know about missionaries, and it probably isn’t true.”
She handed him a plate. “The position?”
He decided he’d overstepped a certain mark. “It was meant to be a joke. I’m sorry.”
Panya didn’t seem at all embarrassed. “Don’t apologize. I thought I might be killing the conversation stone dead.”
“I wasn’t thinking.”
“Most married missionaries know lots of positions, I can assure you.”
He wanted to change the subject. He’d embarrassed himself more than Panya. “I thought it was a case of live and let live with religions nowadays. You know, everyone trying to accept each other’s beliefs rather than fighting them.”
“Not everyone feels the need to defend their faith with violence. I work for a group called Unity Through Faith.” Panya poured some coffee into two mugs. “We’ve got Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, and Coptic Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims.”
“Sounds like the greatest recipe for friction ever. Christians, Jews and Muslims. They’re all so different.”
“ Different, yes, but Christians, Jews and Muslims accept many of the holy men in the Old Testament. Christians of all denominations believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God who died for the sins of the world. The Jews disagree. They're still waiting for the Messiah. And the Muslims base their faith on the teachings of Muhammad. They have their own holy book, the Qur'an. They say Allah -- or God -- dictated it to Muhammad through the angel Jibril."
“Your Unity Through Faith group sounds like a non-starter,” said Sam.
Panya shook her head and smiled. “We’re never going to see eye to eye, but we want to show love to one another, and respect each other’s beliefs even if we don’t share them.”
Sam shook his head. “Those people who attacked you didn’t show much respect.”
Panya stirred her coffee slowly, as though needing time to come up with the answer. "Christians, Jews and Muslims have persecuted each other for centuries," she said at last. "It's the extremists who cause all the troubles -- people who want to force their beliefs on others. I know the terrorist attacks with the planes on New York and Washington were terrible, but that’s when people started holding multi-faith services.”
“I remember watching the one from the Washington National Cathedral,” Sam said. “Someone there said religion should never be used as a reason for conflict.”
“Religious conflict is nothing new. A few hundred years ago Catholics burned Protestants, and Protestants burned Catholics. It’s a shameful part of our Christian past. Look what’s been happening in Northern Ireland and the old Yugoslavia in the name of religion. Mostly it’s power fighting, using religion as an excuse. But we’ve often persecuted Muslims and Jews, and they’ve done the same in return. Unity Through Faith thinks it’s time everyone stopped. Help yourself to more cake and we’ll go and sit down.”
“I bet your group doesn’t go down well with everyone.” He took another slice and nodded approval. “I’ve got an aunt who won’t go near a Catholic church.”
“She doesn’t like the Pope. Talking about the Pope, what about your contact in the Vatican who’s supposed to be fixing things for me?”
“Michael Fitz? He’s a cardinal with special duties. A sort of peacekeeper between different religions in the world.”
“A cardinal!? You called him Michael. Shouldn’t you call him His Eminence or something?”
“He’s my godfather. He was my parish priest in Philadelphia when I was a baby.”
He took a bite of his fruitcake. “So what’s brought you to England?”
“Michael Fitz invited me over from the States to find out what’s going on in the Institute. I’d love to go the meeting that’s coming up in Cairo, but I have to stay here to keep an eye on things.”
“And this cardinal is the man who wants my help?”
“That’s about it.”
“And if I help him, he’ll find my children?” Sam finished his cake and wiped his mouth.
“He’ll try. He’s got contacts.”
“In the Social Services?”
“Banks, governments, local authorities.”
“I’ve brought the cylinder back from Berlin. Ask him if that’s enough.”
He knew from the way Panya said it that it wouldn’t be enough. “As soon as possible. Anyway, why is Cardinal Fitz so interested in this Institute place?”
Panya sat across the room. “He’s worried about an alternative agenda by someone here.”
“So it’s not a case of live and let live?”
Panya looked surprised. “Some groups are dangerous: a threat to others. Eighteen months ago the Institute of Egyptologists predicted the death of someone high up in the Church, and then gave an unpleasant prediction about the future of the Catholic Church. It was enough to arouse a few suspicions in Rome. The Vatican thought the Institute might have an anti-Catholic agenda.”
“Isn’t that how it always starts? One faction is suspicious of another, and tries to eliminate them.”
“ We're not doing this for ourselves," Panya protested. "Unity Through Faith is trying to find a common ground between the three faiths. Of course there are massive differences in our understanding of God, but we want to distribute medicines and food in the Middle East -- without religious intolerance and racism getting in the way. No one's expected to give up their own beliefs."
“And you reckon you’ve got the truth?” He guessed he sounded tactless, but he felt worn out after the drama in Berlin. “I mean, I believe in God.”
“The devil believes in God, Sam.”
That hurt. “Okay,” he countered, “but there are too many religions to choose from, so why bother?”
“It’s like crossing a mountain,” said Panya.
“I’m sorry,” said Sam. “Am I missing something? What mountain?”
“Faith.” Panya continued to stir her coffee slowly. “There are lots of signposts telling you to take this path or that path.”
“There you are then, they probably all end up in the same place.”
“Maybe some of them wind around a bit and come to a dead end. More cake?”
He shook his head and picked up his mug. “What makes you so sure you’ve got it right?”
“Jesus said he is the Way.”
He recalled something from a holiday club at the local church. He must have been about ten, and his mother wanted him out of the house on a wet Saturday. “The Way, the Truth and the Life. Yes?”
Panya smiled. “So why bother with something else?”
“I knew you’d start preaching at me.”
She sat down leaned back in her armchair and winked at him, deliberately. “I’m not going to push it on you, Sam. But if you ever…”
He nodded. “Okay, I’ll let you know. At the moment you can tell me what you’ve discovered while spying on the Institute.”
Panya looked taken aback. “I’ve never thought of it as spying.”
“I guess there’s more to the Institute than the two dirty old men. What else is going on?”
“I’ll know more when I hear what Dr. Wynne has to say about Frau List’s cylinder. Let me see it.”
He produced the cylinder from his bag. He had buried the foul oilskin back with the body in Frau List's basement. "Look, Panya, I'm supposed to give to Dr. Wynne, not to you -- and certainly not to your Cardinal Fitz!"
Panya hesitated. “Before you do … I mean … can we compare the two cylinders? See if this one is older than Olsen’s?”
“How do we do that?” He had an idea of what Panya had in mind and didn’t fancy getting involved.
“We could go over there now and take a look.”
“Tonight? Like now? What do we do, break a window?”
“I’m the housekeeper. I have a key to the front door.”
“I don’t fancy coming face to face with this Olsen.”
“Andy Olsen’s flipped. He won’t come out of his room, but we’ll have to be careful. Denby Rawlins may still be up. He can’t get any of the computers to work. They crashed earlier this evening. Dr. Wynne says it’s a sign from Aten, but Denby Rawlins thinks it’s a bug. They were both running round in a panic when I left, afraid of losing any further predictions from the prophecy.”
“If there really is one.”
Panya looked up and smiled wryly. “I don’t pretend to understand how they do it. They claim they can find coded messages on the cylinder, using the rings, the painted markings, and sections of the Pyramid Texts. These give them details of the events that are about to take place. Allegedly.”
“They need the position of the moon, the stars, and various planetary alignments to give the exact dates for the events. Things like that.”
“You’d have to be a professional nutcase to work here.”
“They don’t do it all by themselves. They’ve developed an amazing computer program to work it out, thanks to Andy Olsen. There are a hundred lines on the cylinder, one for each year.”
“I haven’t counted them on Frau List’s cylinder, but that sounds about right.”
“Dr. Wynne reckons there must have been over forty cylinders originally, covering every century from 1380 BC.”
“And the only one to survive just happens to be the one for now.”
“You sound skeptical. The priests of Pharaoh Akenaten concealed the cylinders in a cave in the fourteenth century BC. Dr. Wynne thinks they hoped they’d be found by a civilization that could decode the Pyramid Texts more fully. Six hundred years ago the roof of the cave collapsed during a major earthquake brought the roof down.”
“They didn’t foresee that one.”
“Doesn’t look like it. Anyway, the Arabs saw signs of an entrance and dug their way in looking for treasure, but all they found were the broken pieces of clay. They thought the hieroglyphs on them had miraculous properties, and ground them into dust to make some sort of medicinal spell. All that’s left is one clay cylinder”
Panya nodded slowly. “I think you’re right: there is no ancient Egyptian prophecy. Cardinal Fitz thinks Andy Olsen was put in the Institute to invent it. But it seems uncannily accurate.”
“Was there really an earthquake six hundred years ago?”
“Give or take a few years. And that’s the problem, things like that give the ring of truth.”
“Right, so there’s nothing left of the other cylinders to back up Dr. Wynne’s findings.”
“No, that’s not quite true. Archaeologists recently unearthed a few small scraps. Not enough for working anything out, but they all have the same fine lines.”
“And how did Frau List’s cylinder manage to survive the earthquake?”
“German archaeologists found it, when they were moving some rocks in nineteen thirty-nine. It had been protected by deep sand. They gave it to Hitler, and more recently Olsen bought it from a collector and gave it to Dr. Wynne.”
“I suppose Dr. Wynne instantly managed to interpret the markings?”
“You’re being unfair. Dr. Wynne had been studying the Pyramid Texts of King Unas, and was convinced they contained a hidden message. Trouble was, he didn’t know how to crack the code. One of the pyramidiots wrote a book about them being prophetic a few years ago, but not many people were convinced.”
“Pyramidiots.” He laughed at the description.
“That’s what Dr. Wynne calls them.”
“Perhaps I could warm to the man after all.” He thought for a moment. “No, I don’t think so. I find all this nonsense about Aten hard to take. Do they practice some sort of ancient Egyptian religion here at the Institute?”
“Maybe Denby Rawlins and Andy Olsen. I’ve heard them chanting a so-called hymn of Aten sometimes, but I think Dr. Wynne sees the Pyramid Texts as something academic to study. When he says Aten has spoken, he means he’s found something interesting in the prophecies.”
“So what are these Pyramid Texts?”
“ Hundreds of Egyptian spells and prayers were carved inside the pyramid of King Unas at Saqqara. Dr. Wynne guessed the cylinders were newer than that -- a thousand years newer -- and were made in the time of the Pharaoh Akenaten. He says the third marking on Olsen's cylinder refers to Tutankhamun."
“Is that surprising? I thought Dr. Wynne said Tutankhamun was Akenaten’s son-in-law or something.”
“Dr. Wynne thought it could be a prophecy to an event that would concern Tutankhamun in the future, and the rings were important. Seventeen rings further along from Tutankhamun he found what looked like a reference to a worldwide war. Let’s suppose the reference to Tutankhamun on the third ring relates to nineteen twenty-two, when Howard Carter dug his way into the tomb. That would make World War Two start in nineteen thirty-nine, which it did.”
“Pushing it a bit, I’d say.”
“The Institute claims the cylinder refers to the present time. One hundred rings equals a hundred years, from nineteen twenty to twenty nineteen.”
“Is that all they have to go on?”
“Unfortunately the cylinder missed predicting the end of the First World War by a couple of years, which would have tied everything in a little more positively. But they’ve found references to powered flight, and men on the Moon.”
“And the Titanic?”
“That was too early.”
“It was meant to be a joke.
Panya looked up. “They found television.”
“Anything decent to watch on it?”
“A foretelling of television.”
“And this is all clearly written in the Pyramid Texts? I bet they didn’t find anything about the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.”
“The prophecies are mostly for the countries around Egypt. They don’t even reach as far as Afghanistan. But there’s plenty about trouble predicted in the Middle East over the next few years.”
“And these predictions are always found in advance, not with hindsight?”
“Okay, Sam, I’m skeptical too. You can read the hieroglyphs on the Pyramid Texts left or right, up or down, or a mixture of all these. You have to understand how the Egyptians wrote, and know what you’re looking for. But there’s a straightforward message on the cylinder about a Man of Power in the West.”
The feeling of weariness began to return. “Heidi List mentioned it.”
“Andy Olsen says it’s not part of the prophecy. It’s a substitution key used to set the code.”
He yawned, but tried to hide it. “It’s all too complicated for me to get my head round tonight.”
But Panya was on a roll. “Olsen has worked out that if you take the symbols on the cylinder, in conjunction with their position relative to the rings, you can tell which way you have to read the Pyramid Texts. The computer keeps arranging the ancient words in columns, so many letters wide, and uses the substitution code until eventually you can read prophecy. You might need to go up, or down, or sideways.”
“Like a wordsearch competition?”
“Not quite. You also have to know how many letters to skip.”
“You have to skip letters?” He started to feel more awake and began to examine the ancient symbols. Little birds, tools, men, beetles. There were too many to count. Perhaps two or three hundred miniature Egyptian hieroglyphs. And the smell. He should be wearing gloves.
Panya came close and leaned over for a look. “You copy out all the Pyramid Texts from the Pyramid of Unas, then skip letters according to a complex mathematical formula based on these cylinder rings and symbols. But you need to know planetary and star alignments to get the exact date.”
“How can you possibly believe this nonsense?”
“I don’t, but it’s coming true.”
He laughed. “If you know what you’re looking for, I imagine you can keep arranging and rearranging letters until they spell out anything you want them to.”
“But the computers…”
“Especially with computers. Computers can crunch billions of letters until they find the words you want to find. What have the newspapers been saying about the prophecies?”
“Most of them didn’t want to know when Dr. Wynne first published his findings, which didn’t go down too well here. But the bird from Mitzrayim made a few of them take notice.”
“ I know a hardened reporter who should have retired years ago. Bill Tolley. He had the cheek to get into my car when I was leaving for Berlin. He even gave me his card -- as if I'd want to get in touch with him. He wants to dig the dirt on this place, as he puts it."
“I think we should let him dig,” said Panya. “Perhaps I can encourage him.”
Sam recalled his earlier confrontations with the man from the Morning Herald. “You’re not getting involved with Tolley.” He studied the fine grooves in the clay and held his fingernail lightly in a groove that cut across the tip of a bird’s beak and rotated the cylinder. His nail moved from the beak to the eye, picking up dirt as it went that could either be earth from Frau List’s cellar, or bits of Gestapo officer that had migrated through the oilskin.
“These grooves are a spiral,” he said in surprise. “My parents used to take me to see a really old aunt when I was a little kid. She always terrified me, but she had an Edison phonograph. It had wax cylinders with recordings of old music hall songs. She made me act out the love songs by kissing her as she played them. It was disgusting.”
“You’re not suggesting there’s a recording on this cylinder?”
The idea was ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than Dr. Wynne’s foolish predictions. “Of course not. But you’ve got a key to the Institute. Let’s see if Olsen’s cylinder has a spiral. And if the paintings on it aren’t identical to these, you can blow Dr. Wynne’s Prophecy right out of the water.”
Panya looked excited. “We’ll have to wait until everyone’s gone to bed.”
“Do you have an empty yogurt pot?”
She looked at him strangely. “I have a full one. Black cherry okay?”
He tried to explain. The way for playing this phonograph recording, if it was one, had come to him in an instant, although his brain felt ready for sleep. Plastic yogurt pots and Panya’s record turntable. Or to be more precise, one plastic yogurt pot, a thorn from the hawthorn tree by the gates, and a pack of rapid epoxy adhesive from the glove box of his car.
He poured the black cherry mixture into a bowl and rinsed out the small container. Panya told him he could eat it, but it was late and he didn’t fancy it right now. She went out to cut a long, sharp thorn from the tree for him to stick to the base of the pot.
Sam applied the adhesive and put the joined components in a low oven to warm, to speed the epoxy setting time. Twenty minutes later he stood the cylinder vertically in the center of the turntable and started it going. He pressed the thorn lightly against the clay, picking up a groove. There was nothing to hear, except a sharp and irregular spitting sound. The yogurt pot refused to speak. One problem was that the grooves were not always as perfectly aligned, as they would have been before the repair, and the needle kept slipping tracks.
It wasn’t as though the idea was rubbish. He’d used yogurt pots as a kid, drilling a hole in the bottom of each one and joining the pair with a long piece of string to make a telephone. He’d been able to embarrass the girl next door with intimate conversations. Small yogurt pots made good sound pick-ups.
The up-ended cylinder revolved on the record turntable at a gentle thirty-three rpm. He tried the only other choice of speed, forty-five, but it sounded no better. The long thorn stayed firmly in place, thanks to a generous application of rapid epoxy. He scratched the sharp point down his thumb, listening to the amplified noise growling from the bottom of the pot.
Of all the so-called modern inventions, getting a sound recording onto a cylinder would surely have been one of the easiest for early civilizations. Most modern innovations needed technological developments that ancient races wouldn’t have been able to use. A primitive phonograph needed no electricity, just a vibrating membrane and a sharp thorn. The ancient Egyptians had lathes, and anyone could turn a handle and shout into a mouthpiece. The soft clay would then be baked hard, like the black resin used for old 78s. Just because no one had found one, that didn’t mean the ancient Egyptians hadn’t been able to make primitive recordings. Unfortunately this one, if that’s what it was, was unplayable.
He pulled a face. “I need to think about it. Let’s go and find Olsen’s cylinder.”
They stepped through the front door and the cold hit him. Even for November it felt colder than he’d expected. Even colder than Berlin. He pulled his jacket collar up.
Panya stood close to him. “That’s Dr. Wynne’s room on the top floor,” she whispered. “All the upstairs lights are out, so I imagine everyone’s in bed. If we don’t make a noise, no one’s going to disturb us.”
He took hold of Panya’s arm as they triggered the security light at the front of the house. For a moment he thought he heard the sound of an upstairs window being opened, but all the rooms stayed in darkness.
Panya bit her lip. “Dr. Wynne won’t like it if he finds us snooping around.”
“You’ve got a key.”
“It’s midnight. I’m supposed to be in bed.”
He raised a finger in caution. “Then let’s make sure no one finds us.”
Panya put the key in the lock. “Give me a moment to check the alarm.”
She opened the door and Gresley Wynne stood facing them in the hall.
“Do come in, Mr. Bolt.” Dr. Wynne sounded breathless. “I thought I heard someone outside, so I came down to investigate. I’m sorry if I startled you.”
“I’ve just got back from Berlin,” said Sam, quickly recovering his composure.
Dr. Wynne smiled, showing his elongated yellow teeth. “It was good of you to come round so late. As you have obviously guessed, I’m an impatient man.” He turned to Panya. “Thank you for bringing Mr. Bolt over. You may go now.”
Sam nodded to Panya, as though he hardly knew her, then looked at the old Egyptologist who fortunately was wearing pajamas under his maroon dressing gown.
“I’m so glad Mrs. Pulaski let you in,” Dr. Wynne continued excitedly when Panya had gone. “Ringing the doorbell would have made the other Partners wonder who was calling so late. Mrs. Pulaski is an extremely resourceful housekeeper.”
Sam decided he could never have thought up the story himself and expect to be believed. Perhaps Dr. Wynne was suspicious, but found the news from Berlin more important.
“I’ve brought back Frau List’s cylinder,” he said, before Dr. Wynne could reconsider.
“Excellent, young man. Excellent. I cannot wait to see it.”
Sam told the story for the second time, but on this occasion he decided to leave out the bit about the corpse under the flagstones.
Gresley Wynne examined the stained pottery with great interest. “Olsen’s cylinder is in the next room,” he announced, putting an arm on Sam’s shoulder. “Let us see what we can see.”
Olsen’s cylinder definitely looked old, but it was understandably cleaner and fresher than the one that had spent sixty years next to a rotting body in a Berlin cellar.
“It looks the same,” Sam said, wondering why Panya had bothered to try getting in without anyone knowing, if Dr. Wynne was as friendly as this.
The Doctor frowned. “The illustrations are remarkably similar.” He peered closely at the colored hieroglyphics. “So much is identical, yet I can see several significant dissimilarities. The question is, which one is genuine?”
Sam leaned forward and tapped Frau List’s. “Look at this symbol of some sort of bird. There’s a small, black crack across its eye. Now look at Olsen’s. Someone’s painted a short line that happens to look like the crack. So it must have been copied after Heidi List’s father mended the cylinder. Most suspicious, I’d say.”
Dr. Wynne picked up the Berlin cylinder hastily. “That will be all, Mr. Bolt. Your services are no longer required. Let me know what I owe you in the way of expenses. I would appreciate your silence on the matter.”
The Egyptologist looked visibly shaken. His prophecy seemed to be falling apart. Sam wanted to get back to Panya.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS BUREAU
As air raid sirens sounded across Jerusalem in the early hours of this morning, the Israeli army was placed on a full war footing. Later described as tests, the alarms heralded what many citizens consider to be the inevitable attack by Egyptian forces, even though Egypt has made it clear that it has no wish to become involved in an act of hostility against Israel. The Egyptian President made a statement on Cairo television this morning, stating that his country regards Israel as a friend and ally. However, reports from Egyptian observers show a strengthening of military bonds with neighboring Arab countries.
AHMED drove straight into Cairo from the International Airport, in the Mitsubishi that Endermann had arranged for him to use. He left it on the edge of the Darb al-Ahmar district and proceeded on foot in the morning sunshine. He had no wish to advertise his presence in this downtown quarter of Cairo. Besides, the sheer size of the off-roader would make it difficult to steer through the twisting alleys in this age-old part of the city.
He felt less secure here than in Cheltenham. Although Endermann had assured him that his false Egyptian passport was good, he desperately wished he was an ibn al-balad, a son of the city who could blend into the narrow streets and not be noticed. It was a little before noon when he glanced at his watch. Nayra should be ready. Slowly, trying to appear casual, he walked into the market.
Everywhere it was men. Men on the stalls. Men shouting orders to other men. Cairo had changed little since he’d worked here in the mid 1980s. A young woman in jeans and a colored shirt stepped forward from a stall of leather goods where she had been examining the bags hanging from a line stretched across the display.
“Do you like it?” she asked, holding up a large purse for his inspection.
Ahmed drew back slightly. His entrenched modesty with Arab women would always haunt him. Years of Western living had done little to change his nurtured instincts. “Are you Nayra”?” he asked hesitantly.
She smiled a cold, formal smile. The young woman was clearly local, but in the eyes of Cairenes she would be seen as a liberated female, despised by her own sex and by the majority of Egyptian men. “Would you like to buy me this purse?”
The stall holder glowered at Ahmed, and Ahmed had no idea if this was due to his familiarity with the woman, or his apparent lack of generosity. He bought the purse.
“I will walk with you to your car,” Nayra said without a word of thanks. “We will not be followed.”
He was glad of the confidence. The pushing crowd in the market and the neighboring alley made it impossible to detect a tail. “I am parked in the el-Qa’La.”
Four minutes later he sat in the bright blue Mitsubishi with his contact, and put the large vehicle’s gear selector into drive. “We’re going straight to the al-Sûfiya mosque,” he told her. “You can keep checking behind us. I don’t want to be followed.”
“I too do not wish it.” Nayra appeared Western in her attire, but sounded local, a true bint al-balad, a daughter of the city. Ahmed watched her as she fidgeted into a comfortable position in the passenger seat. He breathed deeply as he waited for the traffic ahead to move off, fighting down a tremor of remorse. There had been a time when fear of God had governed his actions. Insha’ Allah. The will of God. The phrase which could mean almost anything to a Muslim had long-since lost any meaning for him. He sought revenge, and loved the power that came with it. Should he feel guilt? He pushed the question from his mind. Justifiable action?
“The explosives are ready,” said Nayra.
Ahmed turned his attention to the square ahead and drew into the side of the street, facing a small ornate mosque. “We have to get them down into the sewers before the Unity Through Faith meeting,” he told her.
“So soon?” The woman sounded anxious.
Ahmed looked up sharply. “Do you have a problem?”
“I have the help of a man,” said Nayra, almost coyly, as she placed her new purse on the floor by her feet. “He covets my body and will do what I ask if I offer him enjoyment.”
Ahmed switched off the engine. The slender legs, the swell of her thighs. And he could glimpse Nayra’s full breasts down the loose neck of the blouse as she leaned forward. She would give any man enjoyment. Was such pleasure on wider offer? “He is indeed a lucky man.”
“He is a fool!”
Ahmed looked again at the legs. The hardness in the woman’s voice did not blend easily with the roundness of her body. A woman who could handle explosives would not submit meekly for man’s pleasure. He placed his right hand on her legs, forcing his fingers between them.
“Try that again and I will kill you.” Nayra’s hand lashed across his cheek, sending his head crashing against the back of the seat. “You think my body is at the call of every pervert in Egypt?”
His instincts for survival allowed him to act with a semblance of rationality. The work he had come to Egypt to carry out was of greater importance than having this woman. “I say it again: the man who will be helping you is a lucky man.”
“The man who will help me hide the explosives under the mosque cannot control his urges, my friend. His wife cannot satisfy his unnatural lust for female flesh. Not in the manner in which he demands it.”
“Can you trust this man to follow Endermann’s instructions to the letter?”
She turned to stare at him. Her eyes looked cold. “He is in charge of the sanitation in this part of the city. He will supply a road workers’ tent and traffic cones. He even has a suitable truck in which to carry the Semtex.”
“Tell him to stack it inside the sewers and I will put it in place. Endermann has given me the plans of the mosque. Can you trust the man to deliver everything on time?”
“He believes it is a blasphemy for the service to take place. He believes it is the will of God for the people of all faiths to perish in the al-Sûfiya mosque.”
“And the security searches?”
“There have already been many searches of the building. When the Vatican is involved, there is much security. And the Jews have taken an even greater interest, but they have found nothing.”
“Nor will they,” said Ahmed. “Sniffer dogs are most unlikely find untreated Semtex. That is why Endermann chose it.”
Nayra laughed. “We have thirty kilograms of the explosive. It was stolen from the army in the Czech Republic. If this was a gathering of the world’s politicians, instead of the religious leaders, they would perhaps think to examine the building for an underground sewer through which a man can crawl.”
Ahmed nodded. "It will not need thirty kilos to bring down the walls -- if I can set the charges under in the right area. The building with shake from the foundations, as it is foretold. I will keep five kilograms back for the next job."
“There is more work to do?”
“Who knows what Endermann will require? It pays to be prudent when working for Endermann.”
“You will do your best to destroy the blasphemers in the mosque. As the man who covets the heat of my body would say, it is insha’ Allah.”
“The will of God?” Ahmed mocked. “Who can understand the will of God? It is indeed a mystery. And the man who is helping to bring the explosives, he must not be allowed to talk.”
“He will die immediately the work is completed to your satisfaction. He will not be the first man to suffer that fate. You are driving the vehicle of one of Endermann’s ex-helpers.”
Ahmed felt his grip on the wheel tighten. What he needed right now was a drink. “It does not worry me. Does it worry you?”
“Yes, it worries me,” said Nayra quietly. “I have never trusted Endermann. We will stay together and keep each other safe.”
He placed his hand on Nayra’s lap. “My desire for your body may not be the will of God, but it is my will. Let it be your will too. Let us join together as one for this work.” Again he forced his lingers into the jeans, between her legs. Through the material he could feel the exquisite softness of her flesh.
The rebuttal was still violent, but it hurt less. With a bottle of zibeeb to share, he could be in with a chance.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
DENBY RAWLINS knocked hesitantly at the Lodge door, his red eyes almost closed. “I won’t keep you, Mrs. Pulaski.”
“There’s a problem, Mr. Rawlins?” Panya Pulaski pulled her cardigan tightly round her front and held it there. The man probably possessed x-ray vision.
Denby Rawlins bowed slightly, a smile on his face. “Will you be at home this evening, Mrs. Pulaski?”
“I’m having my lunch.” Panya felt annoyed as well as defensive.
“Quite so. Only we were wondering … that is, Dr. Wynne and I were wondering … wondering if perhaps you would like to be of some fuller service to the cause.”
“Not now, Mr. Rawlins. Could we talk about it in your office sometime?”
The man looked taken aback. “Why yes, of course, Mrs. Pulaski. It’s just that we seem to have rather neglected you while you’ve been carrying out your duties so admirably.”
Still she held her cardigan firmly. “It’s all part of my work, Mr. Rawlins. Will you excuse me now? My food is getting cold.”
“Before I go, Mrs. Pulaski, I have some literature you might like to see.” The middle-aged man held out two booklets with dog-eared orange covers. “One of them explains the traditions of Aten.”
“I’ll try and look through them both.”
“The second one will be of particular interest.” The Second Partner laughed awkwardly. “It explains the role of women in the temple. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the matter.”
“In your office, Mr. Rawlins. I think these things are better discussed during working hours.”
The man began breathing heavily as though deeply moved, and Panya could smell his obnoxious breath. “Quite so, Mrs. Pulaski. You could read the booklets while you’re lying in bed tonight, and we could have a discussion about them in the Hall of Aten tomorrow afternoon. You must feel free to voice any desires that might be in your mind.”
She watched Denby Rawlins shamble off. “That man needs castrating,” she said aloud.
ENDERMANN called Spaxley over to the central table in the hotel dining room. “I want you to look at these satellite images, Admiral. They show a steady build-up of nuclear launch sites in Israel.”
Spaxley picked up a magnifier and examined the clearest high-level reconnaissance photos he’d seen. “Computer enhanced?”
“Sure they’re enhanced. All satellite images are enhanced, but I guess you could say these are a little more enhanced than usual. I want you to flash them at the press boys in London tomorrow. I’m off to Cairo to keep an eye on friend Ahmed. He seems to be having a problem with his drinking.”
Spaxley glanced around the large room. This Cheltenham monument to Regency England made a most suitable meeting place. A large notice in gold writing saying Private Meeting hung on the door to the dining room. Upstairs in Endermann’s room Withington had his eavesdropping equipment plugged into the phone line. “When you say computer enhanced, I take it you mean these are computer generated?” he said.
Endermann dropped another batch of photographs onto the table. “I’m using some old stuff from Iraq, but I’ve dressed it up a bit. I’ve had to make sure no news editor recognizes it from anything he’s got on file.”
“Sure, Endermann. You don’t need to spell it out”
“The security services will naturally laugh at the latest prophecy when it breaks. It’s what they always do with news they’re not expecting. I want you to meet some senior journalists, in small groups. I’ve already set things up. Hint that you’re still in touch with While House security. Get it right and those investigative journalists will give it maximum exposure.”
“Investigative journalists?” Spaxley laughed. “They’re mostly lazy bastards, in my book. Like to be spoon-fed.” He wanted to let his experience show.
Endermann nodded. He lit a cigarette and blew out a cloud of smoke, oblivious of the discreet no smoking signs in this backwater of English civilization. “Listen carefully, Admiral. You’ve got yourself one hell of a problem. Before he went down sick, Olsen seems to have placed some sort of bug in the Institute’s computer system.”
“He told you this?”
Endermann hit the table angrily with his closed fist. “The lines of communication aren’t operating as they should. Olsen’s become too much of a loner.”
Spaxley noticed the decorations on the fireplace for the first time. Beneath those many coats of paint would be a masterpiece. Probably an original Adam to match the plasterwork. How typical of the English to be so self-assured of their heritage that they’d leave it in disguise. Little touches like this gave these establishments an aura of refined honesty. “I thought you were ditching Olsen completely.” Spaxley pushed the photographs back into the envelope. “Look, Endermann, is Olsen in or out?”
Endermann sounded tired. “There’s something I can’t get a handle on. Olsen says Wynne dragged him out of bed in the early hours of this morning for a confrontation. Something about two cylinders.”
“Two? Maybe there are several. Where did Olsen get his cylinder from?”
“The CIA has always taken an interest in old records. Five hundred tons of paper from Third Reich archives made its way to Virginia after the war. Kramer found something in there about the cylinder and tracked it down to a private collector in Munich, Germany. Exchanged it for some rare SS souvenirs and swore the man to secrecy. He fixed up Olsen to visit the Institute with it a year ago, as a way of making sure he’d be taken on. A sort of Open Sesame.”
“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” said Spaxley as he took another look at the photographs.
“Olsen’s American, not Greek,” said Endermann, “but it got him in. They appointed him Third Partner. Then we started pumping in funds and made sure the Institute got all the computers they needed. It’s a wonder Olsen didn’t end being promoted to First Partner.”
Spaxley pulled his chair even closer to the gas fire. The logs in the hearth were the only false item in this hotel, and they didn’t work too well. “The great Olsen is letting the side down, as they say in England.”
Endermann looked serious, and Spaxley enjoyed watching the man’s uncomfortable behavior. “Olsen’s a security risk.”
“Take him out of there, Endermann. Take him out.”
“It’s not that simple, Admiral. It’s Olsen’s bug that’s now running loose, and no one in the Institute can crack it. I need those Institute computers available every minute of the day and night. Who knows what minor changes we’ll need to make as our plans start to unfold?”
Spaxley stared at Endermann. “I can’t work with a casualty under my feet. You’ll definitely pull Olsen out once the computers are fixed?”
“Don’t worry.” Endermann looked and sounded confident. “I have a team ready to take Olsen out of there within five minutes. I have some men who could take out the whole building if necessary.”
Institute of Egyptologists, England
THE ROW of monitors looked blank as Gresley Wynne entered the room. How could the computers all fail at this vital moment? “I thought Olsen was going to help you fix them,” he said to Denby Rawlins.
The Second Partner turned from the up-ended disc drive, a small screwdriver in his hand. “Olsen said something about having a duty to perform.”
“Not for me.” Gresley Wynne shrugged. He could feel his tight suit pulling around the padding in the shoulders. Maybe he was putting on weight.
“Olsen is optimistic.”
“I’m worried about the man. Have you noticed anything strange about his behavior?”
Denby Rawlins seemed to be concentrating on fitting the cover back onto the drive bay. “I suppose he is … well, more sullen than usual. It might be the climax to all our work. Years of toil, and then Andy Olsen arrives with his cylinder a year ago. Now everything has fallen into place.”
“Neatly into place.” Gresley Wynne picked up some pages from the printer. “But then it would be neat. Truth is truth, and I would expect it to be plain. We’ll get our reward.”
The Second Partner paused. His red eyes closed almost to a slit, like a contented cat. “Talking about rewards, I have spoken with the woman.”
“And no doubt gave her some literature.” Gresley Wynne moved out of the direct line of his colleague’s breath. “Temple servants. It may not be easy. Remember what happened before. I cannot allow you to bring the Institute into disrepute.”
Denby Rawlins smiled, and the hairs in his nostrils quivered. “There is pleasure in anticipation. I have been thinking about her while I have been working.”
“ You cannot force these things, Denby -- not without the police getting involved again."
The Second Partner returned to the problem with the system. “Gresley, do you believe in the Curse of the Pharaohs?”
“That sort of talk has no place in this building.” Gresley Wynne let his voice contain a clear reprimand. “You know there is always a rational explanation to these things. Dust from bats’ dung getting into the respiratory system. That is my theory. Why do you ask?”
Denby Rawlins loaded a disc into the rebuilt drive. “It’s something Olsen said. He believes the cylinder is cursed with bad luck.”
“I would not be inclined to take too much notice of the Third Partner.”
Denby tapped a few keys and the screen lit up and immediately went blank again. “This is going to stop us getting the final print-out. Should we call in an outside consultant?”
Gresley Wynne felt anxious and shook his head. “If a stranger gets into the system they’ll be able to go through everything. Some of the work on the prophecy is sensitive, and there are a few of our outdated prophecies still in the files.”
Denby Rawlins loaded another disc. The screen sprang into life and stayed alight.
“Good!” Gresley Wynne felt excited.
“It’s not good. I type the next bit of code and it’s gone. See?”
Gresley Wynne watched the screen go blank yet again, and tried to remain calm. Denby worked badly under pressure.
The door to the computer suite opened. “Is there anything I can do to help?” Olsen asked.
“JUST FORTY-EIGHT hours!” Spaxley felt refreshed from a good night’s sleep, and watched while Withington pressed the keypad on the unit connected to the phone socket. “Just give us another forty-eight hours on this line, and you can put the hotel back on the billing system.” He laughed. “They ought to appreciate what we’ve done for them. They’ve be getting all their calls free.”
Withington appeared relieved. Spaxley didn’t have to push his powers of perception to realize that the man from GCHQ was unhappy. As a junior civil servant, Withington should be used to carrying a certain amount of responsibility. Yet here at the hotel he behaved like a guilty child caught raiding the cookie jar.
“I don’t like all this waiting around,” complained Stephan, coming over to see what was happening.
Spaxley glanced up from lighting his second cigar of the morning. This was the first time the ex-KGB Russian had voiced any sort of dissent. His English was almost perfect. He'd make a good man to act as a spokesman for the Institute -- if one was ever needed. He had just a hint of a foreign accent to lend an air of mystery to the prophecies.
“Stay calm,” Spaxley said. “We’re still waiting for the Institute to fix their computer bug.”
Stephan nodded. “I can’t understand why Endermann hasn’t pulled Olsen out. Olsen’s just throwing trouble into the works, and not for the first time either.” He pulled some papers from the file and walked with Spaxley to the large window, out of Withington’s hearing. “Just between the two of us, Admiral, I’m wondering if Olsen has already done too much damage. Look at this communication he sent Endermann yesterday. Does this look like the writing of a sane man?”
Spaxley dropped the spent match into the bin and took the letter. Emailed from the Institute, it seemed to be a vehicle for the computer expert to flaunt his skills with computer programming. Spaxley quickly became lost with the jargon.
Stephan passed him another sheet of paper. “Olsen sent this one last week. I don’t like it. Endermann’s given him too much responsibility.”
Spaxley gave up trying to understand. “You’re a worrier, Stephan. Endermann can fire Olsen any time he wants.”
“He needs him there, to make everything sound convincing.” Stephan picked up the emails and replaced them in the file. “If the press smell a rat, they’ll drop the story.”
Spaxley raised his eyebrows. “The opposite would happen. Stephan, and you know it.”
“You’re right. Admiral, they’ll go in deep and crucify us.”
“So we have to hope Olsen comes good.” Spaxley glanced at Stephan before turning the gas control on the fire. For once the room was getting too hot. “There’s no going back. The lunar eclipse won’t wait for us. The baby has to blow on time. It will be like the death of Kennedy and the Twin Towers. People will always remember what they were doing when the news of this nuclear explosion comes through.”
“Endermann’s digging a hole for himself by trying to hit that religious service in Cairo first,” complained Stephan, still sounding apprehensive. “He should have stuck to his original plan.”
“The ball’s rolling, and our job is to run with it,” snapped Spaxley. “The timer at Beni Mazar has already been set. Ahmed’s the only one who can switch it off.”
“Is it booby-trapped?”
Spaxley flicked the ash from his cigar into the large glass dish in the center of the table. “I’d imagine so.”
INTERNATIONAL NEWS BUREAU
General Tamid, speaking tonight in Tehran on behalf of the Iranian government, has warned Israel that the first hostile move it makes against any Arab state will be met with instant retribution The British foreign secretary in a statement to parliament earlier this afternoon described the situation in the Middle East as a powder keg waiting to explode. The President of the United States has again called for calm, making it clear that his offer to act as peacemaker still stands.
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“PANYA, I DON’T like to think of you being in danger.” Sam looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight, and he should never have stayed so late the Lodge. But before he went, he wanted to put an arm around Panya, but he held back in case his affability gave the wrong impression. He found it strange that he kept thinking about this Egyptian American even when he wasn’t with her, yet he couldn’t see himself fancying her. Not really. “You ought to move out of here.”
Panya Pulaski seemed thoughtful. “I’d like to have someone looking after me.” She paused and went slightly red. “You know what I mean. I hope. Or rather, you don’t misunderstand.”
“You mean someone who wouldn’t try and take advantage of you.”
She laughed lightly. "You've put it very sensitively, Sam. It's outrageous, but I'm sure either Dr. Wynne or Denby Rawlins is trying to seduce me -- or perhaps it's both of them."
“Seduce? That’s an outdated word.”
Panya pulled a face. “That’s the way I am. It’s probably my background. Perhaps it’s the way I want to be.”
“If it’s any consolation, I think Dr. Wynne is trying to seduce me, not you.” He realized that today’s skirt was definitely shorter, coming only just below Panya’s knees, but it was still black. “Anyway, you can relax. Seduction isn’t high on my list of things to do at the moment. I’ll stay for a few days, if you really want me to.”
“Can you stay tonight?”
“I’ll have to get my things.”
“Don’t leave me alone, Sam. Not tonight.”
“ I..." Surely this was the first time he'd hesitated about an invitation to stay the night with a woman -- apart from Frau List.
“You’ll have to come and go in the day without anyone seeing you. I’d lose my job if the Institute found out I have a lodger.”
“Seems to me you ought to chuck the job in anyway.”
“I can’t, Sam. I told you about this group I work for. They need me here.”
“Your religious group, Sanity Or Faith?”
“Don’t mock me, Sam. It’s Unity Through faith, and you know it is.”
“So what’s your plan?”
“Cardinal Fitz wants me to get hold of Olsen’s personal file. I’ve tried several times today, but the cabinet is always locked.”
“Will you help me open the filing cabinet in Dr. Wynne’s office?”
“Is it old?” It seemed likely, judging by the age of the office furniture he’d already seen.
“An old wooden one.”
He noticed that Panya suddenly sounded helpless. Maybe it was an act. Whatever, she could do with his help. “When?”
“It’s up to you. You’re the one with the key to the front door. But the first thing I’m going to do is get up through the hatch in your bathroom and see if anyone’s been mucking around. Give me a hand up.”
Five minutes later he looked down at Panya through the open trapdoor. “Someone’s definitely been up here.”
“A Peeping Tom?”
He dropped the flashlight to Panya and lowered himself onto the bathroom stool, his arm and chest muscles taking the weight. “Someone’s drilled a small hole though the hatch. It’s recent. The wood around the hole smells fresh.”
Panya pulled the blind on the frosted window. “Would he have been able to see me in the bath?”
Sam shrugged. “I shouldn’t think so.” Would Panya believe him? The hatch was directly over it. “Anyway, it might not have been Dr. Wynne. What about the Second Partner?”
“Denby Rawlins? It doesn’t make much difference, does it? They’re both dirty old men. How did they get up there without me knowing? I mean, look at all the bits that fell down when you got up.”
“This isn’t the only hatch,” he said. “I found another over in the far corner. Who uses that room?”
“No one. It’s a store room.”
“So someone waited until you were over at the Institute, got up through the hatch in the store room and drilled a hole over your bath.”
“What about the sawdust from the drill?”
“He probably let himself in through your front door and swept up the dust. Which one of the old men is on drugs?”
“Drugs? Like hard drugs, you mean?”
He stood on the stool, feeling cautiously around the edge of the hatchway. “This syringe was up there. It’s not been there long. There’s no dust on it.”
“It’s horrible.” Panya took the syringe and dropped it into the bathroom bin. “Put the hatch back.”
“We’ll have to contact the police. One of those two men needs locking up.”
Panya shook her head. “I don’t want my cover blown.” She shuddered. “It makes me feel dirty for every bath I’ve taken. I knew something was wrong when I heard the noises.”
“I’m going round to wring their bloody little necks!”
“Don’t do anything hasty, Sam.” Panya held his arm. “There’s someone else it might be. Just lately the Third Partner, Andy Olsen, he’s been acting strangely. He keeps looking at me, if you know what I mean. Only it doesn’t seem so bad, because he’s our age.”
“Do you only hear noises up there at night?”
“That’s when I usually bath. Just before going to bed.”
“Let’s go over to the house now and see if we can find Andy Olsen’s file in that filing cabinet.”
“I’ll take the flashlight. Do we need anything else?”
“A big screwdriver should do it.”
Panya produced three from the drawer in the hall table. “Take your pick.”
He selected the largest. It looked the least likely to bend. “Right, let’s get over there. Tomorrow night you can turn on the bathroom light and run the water. I’m going to catch the rancid rat red handed.”
Institute of Egyptologists, England
SAM WATCHED Panya open the front door of the Institute without hesitating. She could certainly keep her cool under stress. Mr. Pulaski had got himself one hell of a fine wife the day he got married. Losing a husband and being forced to submit to multiple rape would have finished many women. Just surviving would have been enough to earn respect, but to come back to face more danger by volunteering to be an insider at the Institute showed courage that left him almost bewildered.
This time the hall was empty.
“There’s someone in the computer room.” Panya held his arm, preventing him from going forward.
“Perhaps they’ve just left the lights on.”
She shook her head. “They never do. The office is down this way. Keep close.”
He needed no encouragement. Panya seemed fearless. He wouldn’t dare confess his own feelings right now. “I can hear someone moving,” he whispered.
“It’s probably Andy Olsen trying to sort out the computer system. Right, here’s Dr. Wynne’s office.” She shut the door and switched on her flashlight. “This is the filing cabinet. Any ideas?”
He heaved the cabinet away from the wall. It was old, and probably ex-MoD: the sort he’d often seen in use on small airfields. The plywood backs were never intended for the storage of sensitive material. He used the screwdriver to lever the back away, starting at the top. Then he reached into the gap with the blade to find the locking rod. “This should do it.” There was a click as the top drawer moved forward a couple of inches. He came round and pulled it fully open. “How’s that?”
Panya flicked through the separate sections and pulled out a folder. “We’ll have to get this back before morning.”
He felt they’d been here long enough. “Okay, let’s move.” They were in the hallway when Sam stopped. “Someone’s coming out of the computer room. We’d better hide.”
“Quickly, into the Hall of Aten,” whispered Panya.
As Panya pushed him into the huge room, Sam looked up at the red laser. The starlight projected onto the walls showed the large Egyptian relief. “What is this place, a chapel or something?”
“They don’t worship here. Not like in a church. They study Aten, the Sun god, but…” Panya pulled him back into the cover of the curtains. “You’d better take this.” She passed over Olsen’s file as the footsteps from the computer room got closer. “Climb out through the window if I get caught. I can always think of some explanation for being here.”
A small man in his late twenties came into the room and stood below the Egyptian relief. He sank to his knees on the spot where the laser beam scattered off the polished wooden blocks. “Hail to you, Aten of daytime, creator of all, who makes all things alive,” he said quietly in a slow monotone. From his pocket he produced a roll of cloth.
“It’s Andy Olsen,” Panya whispered in his Sam’s ear. “That’s the hymn of Aten I was telling you about.”
Sam knew what to expect. The roll of cloth would contain a syringe and drugs. The man was a bloody junkie. With shaking hands he spread it out in the red light beam from the laser.
“O Aten, disc of the sun, you want my life, so take it now.” The man raised the syringe as though to plunge it into his arm.
Panya broke from Sam’s grip. “No, Andy, don’t kill yourself.”
Olsen looked up in surprise, the raised syringe in his right hand, his left arm bared with the cloth clenched tightly in his fist. “Mrs. Pulaski, what are you doing here?” He jumped to his feet as though to attack Panya with the sharp needle.
Sam was ready to go forward to give protection, but Olsen dropped the syringe and started to shake. “Why have you come?”
Panya bent down and picked the syringe from the floor. Sam watched her turn his way, shaking her head as she looked at him. It seemed she wanted him to stay out of sight. Perhaps she was worried about the file being seen. “You need help, Andy,” she said.
Andy Olsen stood up and embraced her in a bear hug. He began to sob. “You don’t understand. I came here to work for Endermann, and I’ve lied to everyone. Aten wants truth, and I’ve given him deception. Give me back my needle.” He continued to shake. “I have to atone for the great deception.”
Sam felt concerned for Panya and he moved forward. “My name’s Sam Bolt. Mrs. Pulaski is here with me.”
The eyes stared as Olsen released his hold. “I’ve crashed the computers.” His voice sounded remote. “There is no prophecy.”
A light came on in the hallway, its yellow light flooding through the doorway into the Hall of Aten, contrasting dramatically with the reflection from the red laser. Sam moved swiftly back behind the long curtains.
“What are you doing here, Third Partner?” Gresley Wynne stood in the doorway peering into the darkness. He switched on the overhead lights and the sudden brightness made Olsen cry out with pain.
Panya sounded astonishingly self-assured. “It’s Andy Olsen, Dr. Wynne,” she said. The syringe and roll of cloth lay beside the man who now crouched with his hands on his head, emitting a low moan. “You’d better call an ambulance.”
“That man is our most trusted technical expert. Drugs at the Institute!” Gresley Wynne sounded horrified. “How can I face the publicity?”
“You have no choice.” Panya said firmly.
Gresley Wynne sounded flustered. “The Third Partner has his own doctor. Please get his personal records from my office while I go and wake Denby Rawlins. You will find the key to the filing cabinet on this ring.”
Sam stayed out of sight until Dr. Wynne had gone.
“You’ve got his records, Sam.” Panya took the file from him and began to sort through it. “You’d better go,” she said. “Through the window.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“ANDY OLSEN might as well not have existed before he came here. He spent a couple of years in America studying computer programming, and that’s all I could find about him in the file. I had to leave everything with Dr. Wynne.”
“Then we wasted our time.”
“We rescued Andy Olsen,” Panya said with a slight smile. “Who’s this Endermann he mentioned?”
“Dr. Wynne came too soon,” said Sam. “But it’s strange Dr. Wynne never asked what you were doing in the Hall of Aten.” He looked out of the Lodge window into the night. “I suppose he was too worried about Olsen to notice.”
“That doctor was odd.” Panya picked up their mugs and took them to the sink. “He seemed more interested in taking Andy Olsen away than in trying to treat him.”
“The whole thing was odd,” said Sam. “Flash car for a local doctor. Anyway, it’s time we got some sleep. Look, I’ll sleep on the sofa if you’ve got any blankets.”
“That’s exactly what I had in mind,” said Panya gently. “I have plenty of blankets. My brother comes down to stay occasionally. I have to get permission from Dr. Wynne, but he allows it for family.”
Sam stared. “I never thought about you having a family.”
Panya laughed. “I suppose you’re so naive you thought I was found under a gooseberry bush.”
“I like you, Panya.” It wasn’t much, but it was all he could think to say.
ENDERMANN stood at the end of Spaxley’s hotel bed. “Sorry to wake you, Admiral, but I’ve just got back from London.”
“This had better be good,” growled Spaxley. The green digits on the bedside clock said six twenty-seven. It was pitch dark outside.
“Dr. Wynne rang me from the Institute last night. God knows what Olsen’s been doing to himself. I had him picked up and taken straight to London.”
“And he’s out of harm’s way?”
“He was suffering from an attack of conscience. Probably why he put the monkey wrench in the computer program.”
Spaxley felt a little more awake now. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I want you down at the Institute this morning.”
“I thought I had to brief the press in London. And you’re supposed to be with Ahmed in Cairo.”
“A slight change of plan. I’m seeing the press in London. You have to see Dr. Wynne this morning and persuade him to release the prophecy immediately, before the service at the Cairo mosque.”
“What do I tell him?”
“Tell him you’re Olsen’s closest friend. Tell him Olsen’s a genius, and the work drove him to drugs. That way Dr. Wynne will still have faith in Olsen’s earlier work, and not worry too much about the last few days.”
“It will mean thinking on my feet,” said Spaxley, “but I can do it okay.” He felt angry that Endermann would be seeing the journalists in London, but he knew he was too scared to object. Endermann had a way about him that put fear into everyone he met.
“But don’t let them try and visit Olsen.”
Spaxley looked up sharply. “Why not?”
“He’s being buried on Wednesday.”
Endermann shrugged. “Private arrangements always come with a medical care package.”
Institute of Egyptologists, England
SPAXLEY sat for a moment, looking from his rental car through the large entrance gates at the center of prophecy. Making the appointment had been straightforward. He was still Mr. Grant. Mr. S. Grant, visiting England, and suddenly deciding to look up an old friend called Andy Olsen. Dr. Wynne had sounded extremely anxious for news of Olsen. He pressed gently on the gas pedal and the Ford moved into the drive.
This was a large house, though not old enough to be a genuine country manor. The exterior, rendered with dark gray cement, looked unpleasantly dirty. On the side wall a large creeper clung to the gloomy surface, its leafless limbs looking like charred bones. Perhaps in the greener season it would carry flowers and disguise the depressing walls. Early twentieth century. Edwardian, the English called the period. This would have been a residence of the English upper classes in the past. No, not the upper classes. It would have been the home of what the English snobbishly referred to as the nouveaux riches. Spaxley switched off the engine and stepped onto the yellow gravel. Dr. Wynne was probably as disagreeable as the house he occupied.
“Yes, Dr. Wynne is expecting you, Mr. Grant.” The woman who opened the door gave him a smile that instantly made him feel welcome. The English could normally only manage a cold reception, but this dark-skinned woman sounded American, and friendly.
“And who are you, young lady?”
“I’m Mrs. Pulaski.”
“Mrs. Pulaski? Don’t you have another name?”
“Panya Pulaski, Mr. Grant. Come this way please.”
“Sure thing, Panya. This is a great house you’ve got here.” The door to a large room was partly open and Spaxley was unable to resist peeping in. “Is this your chapel or something?”
“It’s the Egyptian room, Mr. Grant.”
“We call it the Hall of Aten,” said a man from the large staircase. “I’m Dr. Wynne. Thank you, Mrs. Pulaski, I will take the visitor to my office.”
Spaxley winked at Panya Pulaski who seemed to be showing no signs of leaving them. “Bit of an old sour puss in the morning, your chief.”
He continued uninvited into the large room which was filled with Egyptian murals. “This is some great place. Too bad about Andy Olsen’s tragic breakdown.”
Gresley Wynne made a clear signal with his hand that Panya Pulaski should leave them alone. “Tell me, Mr. Grant, how do you know Andy Olsen?”
“I’m sorry, Gresley. You are Gresley Wynne I take it? Right. Andy’s a close friend of mine. I’ve been talking to him at the hospital this morning. He’s asked me to give you a message. Verbal, of course.” Spaxley glanced at Panya. “It would be a pleasure if your secretary stayed, Gresley.”
Dr. Wynne made no further comment and Panya followed behind as they walked to the office.
Spaxley felt obliged to put his arm on Gresley Wynne’s shoulder, even though the man’s suit looked sickeningly dirty. “Andy’s already aware of the big mistake he’s made, and he sure is sorry.”
“Perhaps you can tell me exactly what sort of mistake he is talking about, Mr. Grant. Andy Olsen has been engaged on important work here at the Institute.”
“Sure, I know something about it, Gresley. A new prophecy of some terrible events in the Middle East, starting in Cairo.”
Dr. Wynne seemed surprised. “But it was highly confidential. We still haven’t gone public with this one.”
He thought quickly. “Confidential, absolutely, which is why I don’t know any details. I can assure you Andy’s been discretion itself. All I know is he’s working on some kind of prediction, and he seems to think he’s accidentally released some kinda bug into the computers.”
“It would appear that way.” Dr. Wynne shook his head and sighed. “The whole system has crashed.”
“Gresley, I’m sure you know that Andy found the work here an enormous strain. But I have his word he was only taking drugs for a few days. That’s the opinion of the staff at the private clinic as well.”
“Then you think we can rely on all his workings, Mr. Grant?”
“Sure, sure. Andy wants you to go ahead and call a press briefing immediately. He wants to assure you that all his work is valid.”
“Is the clinic close? I’d like to see him.”
“I’ll fix it, Gresley. Soon. In the meantime I think you should go public immediately. Andy has put his whole reputation behind the predictions.”
Gresley Wynne stared up at the ceiling and closed his eyes. “Aten speaks.”
“Yes, sure.” Spaxley let the old fellow have his minute of silence. He thought of Kramer on the riverbank in Virginia. It needed skill and patience to land a big one. “I could help,” he said at last, judging the moment.
“You can mend our computers, Mr. Grant?”
Spaxley laughed. “I don’t think it’s your computers that need fixing. You need someone to handle the press. They’ll not give you an easy ride over this.”
Gresley Wynne turned. “You may get me us coffee, Mrs. Pulaski. Or perhaps Mr. Grant would prefer tea.”
“If we’re talking business, I could do with a coffee, Gresley.” He winked at Panya. “Thanks, ma’am, coffee will be fine.” This young woman was attractive in an unsophisticated sort of way. As soon as she left, Spaxley turned to Dr. Wynne. “We could work together, Gresley.”
The offer was a mistake, he could see that immediately.
“I’ll show you round, Mr. Grant.” The reply sounded cold and formal. “The computer room is out of bounds, but a closer look at the Hall of Aten may interest you. Come this way, please.”
The woman wasted no time in coming back. “I’ll be serving the coffee in your office, Dr. Wynne.” She gave a pleasant, almost seductive smile as they returned to the office after examining the huge mural.
Spaxley sipped his coffee, deciding to try another approach at getting his way into the group. “Andy Olsen says that the world must be warned about something he discovered in the codes last night. I’ve got it written down.” He pulled a small notebook from his jacket pocket. “The establishment will tremble from the depths, and the followers of the One God will be confounded, and their enemies will mock their destruction in the fallen house.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Means nothing to me, of course, but Andy wanted me to pass it on. Something about Cairo, and it seems to be bothering him.”
“We already have those words in our computer printout, but they mean very little to us.” Gresley Wynne frowned. “Did he say how soon this will be?” He turned round to the woman who was sitting quietly. “I think you’d better get on with your duties now, Mrs. Pulaski.”
“No, I think your secretary ought to stay, Gresley. We might need someone to take notes.”
Gresley Wynne shook his head. “Mrs. Pulaski is our housekeeper not my secretary, Mr. Grant.”
Spaxley winked at her. “Sorry, young lady. I hope you’re not offended.”
The woman gave him a smile and moved to collect the cups.
Gresley Wynne seemed anxious to clear up a few points. “Mr. Grant, can you assure me you are unfamiliar with the confidential details of Andy Olsen’s work?”
“That’s about it, Gresley.” Spaxley could feel himself begin to sound a little unsteady. This sort of job would have been easy a few years ago.
“To tell you the truth,” said Gresley Wynne slowly, “I have always been nervous about talking to the press.”
Spaxley smiled, and took his pen from his pocket to make a few notes. “I can help you there, Gresley. I’ve been dealing with the press all my life.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice so the woman wouldn’t hear. “I was with the White House press office.”
He raised a finger to let Gresley Wynne think the matter was classified. “I had a senior post there.”
“Did you know the president?”
“Sure I knew him.”
Wynne nodded thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t want you taking charge or anything, Mr. Grant. I must make that clear.”
Spaxley realized the young woman was taking her time putting the cups on the small tray. He quite liked her. She was cute in a strange sort of way. “Wouldn’t want to interfere, Gresley my friend. My face would still be known to a few of the press corps. It would take away something from the impact of your predictions if the media thought your work was being handled too slickly, so it’s best to keep my name out of things.” He began to feel more confident. “I can help you prepare the press statements, and give you a few tips about appearing on television.”
Gresley Wynne looked enthusiastic. “Television? I imagined it would all be done with written statements.”
“If you appear on television, the name of Dr. Gresley Wynne will be on everyone’s lips.” Spaxley watched a look of pride grow rapidly on the man’s face. He’d got it right at last.
“The reputation of the Institute is at stake,” said Gresley Wynne slowly. “Going public is a big gamble.”
Spaxley stood up. He knew how to get his way with weak men. “Put your faith in the prophecy, Gresley. It’s the culmination of your work here at the Institute.” He turned to the woman who was still fiddling with the cups on the tray. “What do you say, Panya?”
“It’s not for me to say anything.” The woman looked embarrassed but stayed where she was.
Spaxley clapped the First Partner on the shoulder. “Gresley my friend, the way I see it you’ve got no choice. Andy Olsen tells me you’ve already predicted the events that will reshape the Middle East over the next few days. They’re predestined. Completely out of your control.”
“But they have serious implications for world peace, Mr. Grant.”
Spaxley hoped Kramer would thank him for getting inside the door so quickly. “No one can blame you for what the ancients wrote, Gresley. You’re only the messenger.”
“The messenger of Aten.”
“Sure, the messenger of Aten. I’ll organize a press conference for tomorrow morning.”
“I CANNOT STAY here with you any longer, Nayra. I have a wife at home.”
The bint al-balad turned quickly, her eyes bright with passion and a desire for further stimulation. “You mess about with me in bed all day long, and suddenly you worry about your fat wife? Yet you will kill all those people in the al-Sûfiya mosque and not be bothered for their wives?”
Ahmed reached for the bottle by the side of the bed. The growing awareness of the enormity of his task had brought him out in a sweat. He’d misjudged the sexual capabilities of the woman. This was a wretched room in a despicable boarding house in the Darb al-Ahmar district, with thin walls and neighbors with sharp ears.
“This mission is a secret,” he warned, feeling unexpectedly angry.
“Then hush, my little Ahmed.” The woman giggled. “You are right, we should not mention these things. The man who once owned your Mitsubishi, he knew too much, and now you have his vehicle. And I have the keys to the package he took to Beni Mazar.”
Ahmed pushed Nayra’s arm from his face, his mind full of the woman and the effects of an excess of zibeeh. “You kept the keys? You play a dangerous game.”
Nayra reached over and held him round the neck with her arms. “The whole world is angry with Israel. It will not be long before our enemy is destroyed. The keys to the warehouse and device are safely in my pocket. They look like any other keys, so who would know them? Look at me, Ahmed, my prince of the desert, let me see your eyes. Here, let me teach you how to make love to a different sort of woman. Let me show you how a Sa’di does it.” And she started to shake with laughter.
Ahmed pushed the clammy body away. Tomorrow evening the Semtex he had laid so carefully would be triggered under the al-Sûfiya mosque. Twenty-four hours later, the thermo-nuclear warhead would detonate automatically and demolish Beni Mazar. He wanted to get away, get as far as possible from Egypt before the Eagle of Darkness then spread terror over the land. But Nayra would not give up. The woman, who had been so hard to get on fire, now burnt with an intensity that he was unable to endure. He snatched the bottle of zibeeb and helped himself to a generous dose of the sharp-smelling ouzo. It burnt his throat like fire. Everywhere there was heat. In the bottle, the bed, the woman’s body.
He pulled himself from the untidy sheets and stood naked by the window. The woman laughed, pointing at his symbol of manhood. But Ahmed had been in the room long enough. Nayra was right, those men did have wives. Or lovers. And the women had husbands and children. The explosion in the mosque would wipe out many of God’s people. God the Almighty might forgive him for a few hours of entertainment with this woman, but would never forgive him for destroying a holy building.
The room felt cooler away from the bed. He tried to look out through the grimy glass of the window, but the drink had made it difficult to focus on the tightly packed houses in the Darb al-Ahmar. He reached for his clothes.
“Where are you going, my precious?” Nayra lay on her back, arching her body into a soft curve. “Come to little Nayra.”
“I have done wrong, Nayra. I have to disconnect the fuses.”
Nayra tried to jump from the bed but caught her foot in the draped sheets, falling heavily onto the floor, her bare body suddenly looking crude and lifeless.
Ahmed kicked her legs but she stayed silent. The zibeeb had done its work. The bint al-bahul would wake with a severe headache. Perhaps he would be back before she awoke. He left the filthy room, his unsteady walk taking him slowly through the darkness in the direction of the al-Sûfiya mosque.
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“IT MIGHT be a lot of fuss about nothing.” Panya tipped the soup into two bowls. “The American who arrived today says he’s a friend of Andy Olsen. The Institute has to go public. Those are Mr. Grant’s words. It seems that the first part of the prophecy is about to come to pass.”
“Come to pass?” said Sam.
“You’re joking with me, Sam. I’ve been thinking what you told me about Bill Tolley. I really would like to see him.”
“He left me his mobile number on his card when I was leaving for Berlin. I think he’s staying in a hotel down the road. The man’s a menace. Why are you asking?”
“I’m wondering if he can tell us who this Mr. Grant is.”
“Why one earth would Tolley know Grant?”
“They’re both from the press.”
“So are thousands of reporters.”
“I still think it’s worth a try. Bill Tolley could be a good ally. Mr. Grant said something about Cairo”
“What’s so special about Cairo?”
“It’s where the Nazis found the clay cylinder. It’s where the pyramids are.”
“I’ve flown there. I’ve seen the pyramids, the lot. Any more soup?”
Panya drained the saucepan into his bowl. “Give me his number. I’m going to tell Tolley to turn up at the Institute tonight, out of the blue so to speak. What shall I say, in about an hour?”
Sam looked at his watch. “It’s after seven. He’ll be too drunk to bother. Anyway, what’s so special about Bill Tolley coming here tonight?”
“Dr. Wynne is tired. I want Tolley to catch him off guard.”
“And do what?”
“Expose the prophecy for the nonsense it is.”
He licked his spoon. Had Panya thought this through properly? “Dr. Wynne won’t see Tolley if he’s too late getting there.”
“Okay, we’ll go over to the Institute and keep him talking until Tolley arrives. Give me the phone number.”
Institute of Egyptologists, England
GRESLEY WYNNE seemed pleased to see Panya, but Sam felt ignored. Maybe the man was preoccupied.
“Mrs. Pulaski,” said Dr. Wynne, “I am calling a press conference tomorrow morning.”
“Is something important happening?” asked Panya, sounding suitably innocent.
Sam watched the First Partner rub his hands together. “We are going to receive world recognition, Mrs. Pulaski. Someone phoned from the hospital to say Andy Olsen cannot be with us, but the Second Partner is prepared to talk to the press in depth about how we decoded the Pyramid Texts.”
Sam noticed Denby Rawlins making his way towards Panya, his beady eyes fixed on the faint outline of her breasts beneath her baggy sweatshirt. She noticed his look and folded her arms as she turned away. She seemed to be doing everything possible to hide her femininity.
Panya frowned at Dr. Wynne. “It’s rather short notice.”
Dr. Wynne smiled. “Mr. Grant is helping me set up the Hall of Aten to receive the press. All I want you to do is brief the cook. No meals or anything, but plenty of tea and coffee, with rolls and biscuits.”
“May I know what this is all about, Dr. Wynne?” Panya asked.
“Certainly, my dear.” Denby Rawlins approached from behind and put his arm on her shoulder. “We are all about to receive our reward. This is the time for rewards. I have seen you many times. I want you near me, Mrs. Pulaski.”
Gresley Wynne coughed loudly. “Not now, Second Partner. This is Mrs. Pulaski’s friend, the airline pilot.”
Sam shook hands. The man’s breath smelt rotten. He stepped back quicker than he meant to, nearly tripping over a rug.
“You are a lucky man to have such a delightful friend.” Denby Rawlins peered at Sam with his red eyes. “I have always thought Mrs. Pulaski is exceedingly attractive.”
“I am sure you have work to do on the computers, Second Partner.” Gresley Wynne’s heavy hint was evidently understood.
“I hope to see a lot of you again soon, Mrs. Pulaski.” And the man with the sour breath continued on his way to the Hall of Aten. There was something in the eyes that reminded Sam of Olsen’s face last night, when he’d looked up from his kneeling position in front of the large wall relief. Drugs?
The doorbell rang. Panya hurried to answer it.
THE AL-SÛFIYA mosque stood out starkly in the street lights. A lamp flickered above the gated entrance under the silent minarets. Ahmed felt his thoughts wandering. He wished now that he had made his way straight here, and not stopped at a friend’s house for another bottle of zibeeb. To interfere with the timers on the Semtex was not a job to be undertaken lightly.
“May we all rot in hell.”
He raised the empty bottle and let it drop on the sidewalk. It scattered in a burst of sparkling fragments.
“May Endermann rot in hell!”
His mind felt clearer now. He would not be going to hell to rot with anyone. His destiny was to switch off the timers and save the wives and lovers. Endermann would be mad when he heard about it. God the Almighty would be delighted.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
“I’D LOVE to quote you, Dr. Wynne.”
Bill Tolley put on what he reckoned was a charming smile and flicked open his notebook with an ease that only came with tedious experience. Pompous men like this would rise to the opportunity. They always did. Tomorrow Gresley Wynne’s foolish predictions would make good press, and then the world and the papers would forget about him. But the man would have his moment of glory, however much he might regret it in hindsight. “Perhaps some prediction in advance of the press gathering here tomorrow?” he suggested.
“It hardly seems fair on the other papers, Mr. Tolley.”
“Call me Bill. I could get this interview into tomorrow’s edition.”
Gresley Wynne looked around as though searching for someone to give him guidance. Another man shuffled into the Hall of Aten at that moment. "Ah," said Dr. Wynne, 'this is Mr. Tolley -- Bill Tolley -- of the Morning Herald. Mr. Tolley, Denby Rawlins, our Second Partner.”
The introductions were quickly completed. Bill Tolley saw both men as a pushover. “Don’t you gentlemen want recognition for your research at the Institute?”
“I will tell you the words of Aten.” Denby Rawlins gave a smile that faded away quickly, leaving small red eyes peering out of a furrowed face. “In the eleventh month, when the moon is suddenly darkened, the establishment will tremble from the depth. The followers of the One God will he confounded, and their enemies will mock their destruction in the fallen house. The people of the True God will perish, and their enemies will rise in anger. Great will be the sadness and suffering throughout Egypt and the nations, in the time of reprisal that must surely follow.”
Tolley endeavored to sound impressed. “And this is one of your predictions?”
Gresley Wynne walked to the long table under the wall relief. From it he took a fancy red binder. “These are the full Prophecies of Aten, Mr. Tolley. There’s a lunar eclipse due in the next few days. The first prophecy will come to pass in Egypt before that, we believe.”
Gresley Wynne closed the folder. “You must understand that I cannot reveal more of the prophecy to you this evening.”
Bill Tolley stood back and looked at the two men standing beneath the large wall relief showing the ancient Egyptian figures. It would make a great picture. “My camera’s in the car. Dr. Wynne, may I have a picture of you two gentlemen to put with the quote?”
Gresley Wynne confirmed that it would be acceptable. Tolley realized he was finding some of his old self beneath his years of cynicism. The Institute might be crap, but it would make a good story. And he’d be there with it first. “I’ll phone the news desk to reserve space for the morning edition,” he promised.
AHMED BEGAN to question the wisdom of his actions. Standing alone outside the high entrance doors to the al-Sûfiya mosque seemed a suspicious action. He reached out to two men as they passed by, walking briskly and minding their own business. “May God be merciful to me. I have tried to destroy the beautiful mosque.”
“What with, your breath?” one of the men said, and they walked on, laughing loudly.
Another drink would help. Ahmed stared down at his feet, watching the ground move backwards and forwards in a gentle motion. More alcohol would be a great gift from God right now, and it would help ensure the success of making the Semtex safe. At that moment a movement caught his eye. A policeman in full uniform stopped by the side of the mosque, lighting a cigarette, right on the cover to the main sewer. He would not be there long. Ahmed staggered to the high wall to inspect the situation more closely. The policeman was armed and was not likely to listen to the ramblings of a drunken Lebanese. It would not be the first time the police had invited him in for questioning. His previous encounters with the Mukhabarat had given him a high profile over the years.
He waited until the policeman wandered round to the front of the mosque, out of sight, leaving the large circular iron cover exposed. He tried not to stumble, and wished his legs felt steadier. It was important to get into the underground passages quickly. He had left the lifting tool behind the low railings. Fortunately, it was still there. He lifted the cover and dropped down out of sight, landing heavily on the ground beneath the manhole.
Disconnecting the wires in the right order was always going to be complicated. The wires. He had installed the system when clever Nayra had arranged for a workman’s shelter to be erected over the entrance down to the sewers. The shelter had been removed now, to avoid suspicion. Not that it mattered. As always, he’d fixed up the Semtex to detonate if tampered with. He knew he was good with explosives. His knowledge had enabled him to wire an ingenious booby trap. But his mind and hands had been calmer then.
Ten minutes later, burnt out by Nayra’s requirements, his mind confused with alcohol and the stink of the sewers, he reached out to the brightly colored wiring.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
BILL TOLLEY found his editor less enthusiastic than he’d hoped when he rang from the hotel. He tried again to explain that here was a chance for the Morning Herald to have some fun at the expense of self-appointed authority, to show Dr. Wynne posing below a dramatic Egyptian wall painting, and to send him up something rotten.
“I tell you, some building of God is going to fall down.” Tolley paused for breath. “They reckon it could be in Egypt. Now I can either drive straight to London with the film, or I just get into my nice warm bed and email my report through in the morning.”
“Hold on.” The editor spoke to someone by his side. Then, “Bill, did you say Cairo?”
“Did I say what about Cairo?”
There was more talking. “Bill, read me that prediction again.”
Tolley could hear snatches of a conversation between the editor and the news room staff. “What’s happened?”
“You’d better get your words on the line pronto. In the meantime just read me that quote.”
“The establishment will tremble from the depths, and the followers of the one God will be confounded,” Okay? That one?”
“You said something was going to fall down.”
Bill Tolley referred to his notes again. “Their enemies will mock their destruction in the fallen house. Why?”
“And Dr. Wynne told you it was going to happen in Cairo?”
“Same thing. And when did he say this was going to take place?”
“Tomorrow. The next day. What’s so important? The people of the One God are going to perish. Doesn’t sound to me as though God is too fussy about killing his own.”
“Get back to the Institute, Bill. I’m holding space on the front page of the late editions for this. I’m going to need some decent pics, so I’ll send a local freelance. He’ll join you at the Institute. Don’t wait for him. Just get on over and make sure you’re first with the news. We want this as an exclusive. Get Gresley Wynne to name a figure.”
“I don’t understand. What the bloody hell’s happened?”
“Cairo was rocked by an explosion twenty minutes ago, that’s what’s happened. It’s taken out a mosque and a load of houses. It’s not nuclear, but it’s made one hell of a mess.”
Bill Tolley looked at his watch. “Are you sure about the timing? Perhaps the people at the Institute already knew about it, and were having me on.”
“It’s too recent for that.”
“So how the hell did they do it?” Tolley asked.
“I don’t care how they did it, Bill, but they obviously knew it was coming. This is the big one. You won’t be able to move at the Institute of Egyptologists for the boys tomorrow. They say you used to be good. Don’t let me down.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“I’VE JUST been listening to the late news on my radio.” Panya had knocked before coming tentatively into the small living room. She sounded frightened.
Sam pulled the blanket round him for modesty. “I wasn’t asleep. Turn the light on.”
“It’s Dr. Wynne’s prophecy.” Panya’s eyes looked wide.
“On the news?”
“The al-Sûfiya mosque in Cairo has been blown up. It wouldn’t have got such immediate coverage if the press weren’t watching Egypt so closely.”
Sam decided that to someone as religious as Panya, a bit of correct prophecy shouldn’t come as a great surprise, but he wouldn’t say it. “So much for Olsen saying the prophecy was all a deception.”
Panya sat down on edge of his bed and gripped his foot where it poked out from under the blanket. “It’s where we were going to hold our Unity service. I have to phone Cardinal Fitz.”
“If he’s already in Cairo I should think he knows. He probably heard it. When did it happen?”
“A couple of hours ago. Midnight Cairo time.”
“Were any of your group there?”
“There’s no information yet. The service wasn’t going to be till tomorrow evening. Such a beautiful building. And this is only the beginning of the prophecy.”
“What comes next?”
Panya continued to hold his foot tightly. “The light in the sky.”
“The light that will bring the people of the Hebrews to their knees and prescribe a new age of peace? We’d better go outside and start looking.”
“It’s serious, Sam. I know you think I don’t have a great sense of humor, but this isn’t anything to joke about.”
He reached out and took hold of Panya’s hand. “What can we do?”
“We need the rest of the prophecy. Somewhere they’ve got it all, in a red binder decorated with hieroglyphics.”
“You can’t steal it.”
“We could use the photocopier in the office. I know it’s risky, but there’s something detestable in this revelation.”
“Detestable? You use some old-fashioned words for a young woman. And you’re not walking into the Institute after midnight on your own. Not with those two old men about. Give me a couple of minutes and I’ll go with you.”
INTERNATIONAL NEWS BUREAU
Italy has agreed that NATO fighter and bomber aircraft can be deployed from airfields in the south of the country. Peace groups from Europe and the United States of America marched through Rome this evening, protesting at the rapid build-up of firepower in the Mediterranean. A UN spokesperson repeated an earlier statement that the UN’s role is one of peace keeping, and it has no reason to see either Israel or Egypt as the aggressor in this increasingly worsening crisis. Meanwhile, a mystery explosion rocked the center of Cairo at midnight local time. There is no word yet of casualties, but a historic mosque is reported to have been destroyed. The police are blaming terrorists for the blast.
NAYRA SAT on the floor, trembling in the darkness. The effects of the alcohol had been bad enough; the shock wave from the explosion had been catastrophic. For what seemed like hours she had lain with the sheets wrapped around her naked body, moaning to herself. It was a form of mourning, but the subject of the grief she was unable to identify.
It had sounded like a bomb. There would be people dead in the streets. Slowly her thoughts began to become coherent. There was only one important bomb: the nuclear warhead. There was also the mosque. She had helped place the explosives… Great God the Almighty!
She sat on the floor, resting her back against the mattress on the bed. The fall had bruised her head, and her body felt used and disgusting. Had Ahmed set the fuses to the wrong time? Was it some terrible miscalculation, or had he deliberately set the charges off? Was Ahmed now dead, vaporized by his own handiwork?
Too many questions; and her head hurt even more. She could hear people outside her window shouting in the darkness.
She pulled herself onto the bed and looked down at her body. Why had she allowed Ahmed to do this to her?
She would sleep until it was light, but Ahmed would not be back. Ahmed was not to be trusted. The biggest question of all had now been answered. Her head began to clear. Ahmed had set the fuses early to avoid killing the religious fanatics.
She felt angry as she understood just how devious Ahmed could be. The man would now be on his way to Beni Mazar to disarm the nuclear warhead. He had no need of her keys, for he would surely have a set of his own.
Ahmed must be stopped. The Lebanese agent was a traitor to the cause.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
“THIS IS getting to be a habit.” Sam paused in the Institute hallway.
Panya caught his arm in the darkness. “I can hear Dr. Wynne talking in his study. Tolley’s gone, but Mr. Grant is staying the night. It’s nearly one o’clock. You’d think they’d be in bed by now.”
“Let’s start by looking in the Hall of Aten.” Sam walked across the floor, keeping clear of the laser beam bouncing off the polished boards. It was only there for dramatic effect, but it could be dangerous. “Over there.” The red binder had been placed on the low table under the Egyptian relief.
Someone came into the hallway. Sam and Panya moved quickly, slipping out of sight behind the heavy curtain over one of the large windows.
“I still think we should wait until tomorrow,” they heard Dr. Wynne saying anxiously.
The man with him sounded American. “Tolley promised his report will be front page in the Morning Herald. All the attention in the world will be focused on this Institute tomorrow. We couldn’t have asked for better luck.”
“He wanted an exclusive, but I refused.”
The American spoke again. “You did the right thing, Gresley my friend. The last thing you want is an exclusive. We need as many papers and news channels as possible over the next few days.”
“It had to happen.” Dr. Wynne sounded excited. “The world will long remember these momentous days, and the name of the Institute will be held in respect by all mankind.”
Not much of what was being said made sense to Sam. The American would be Mr. Grant, the man Panya had told him about. Bill Tolley must have moved pretty smartly to get his interview in the morning edition.
The prophecy. He could see the ornate red binder on the table, just waiting to be taken. Dr. Wynne had left the main light on in the Hall of Aten. The oppressive room seemed to be filled with a strange atmosphere. Sam realized he’d never been sensitive to the mood of a room before now. Sinister would be a good description of the surroundings. Panya had her arm round his waist, which made him feel better.
He waited until they heard the two men go upstairs and went to the table. “I’ve got the prophecy,” he said. “Where’s the photocopier?”
“In Dr. Wynne’s office, but if he comes downstairs again he’ll hear it. We’ll have to copy it out by hand.”
“It’s only a few pages in a ring binder. Where’s the fax machine?”
“You’re inspired,” said Panya, nodding vigorously. “We can fax it straight to Cardinal Fitz. We’ll use the one in the small office at the back. No one will hear us there.”
Sam went to the door and listened.
THE SUN ROSE as a massive orange ball over the chaotic skyline of Cairo and the Maqattam Hills, its unsteady outline a promise of a fine November day. Nayra drank fruit juice while she straightened her hair. There was no rush. Let Ahmed get to Beni Mazar and switch off the warhead. She could get there quickly and reset the timer as soon as he had gone.
The sun seemed to shrink in size as it rose higher in the sky, its light turning from orange to scorching white. The disc of the sun, the bright god of the sky. Ten o’clock and time to set out for the drive south. She still felt heavy in the head, and she hurt inside from Ahmed’s crudeness, but a two hour journey in her Cherokee Jeep would be possible without too much discomfort. She felt for the keys of the warhead, deep in the pocket of her jeans. Doubts now began to run through her head. Ahmed had not attempted to remove the keys when he left. He had even said something about coming back.
Ahmed was a good man: a kind man at times. A man with a conscience. In a moment of drunken carelessness he had once hinted he was an outworker for the CIA. The man was a boaster, but there might be a germ of truth in his bragging under the influence of drink. Not that CIA men were known for having a conscience.
She noticed a newspaper seller waving his wares at passers by, and switched on the car radio for news on the explosion that had roared through the narrow streets last night. The local radio reporter was interviewing an eyewitness to the eruption of the al-Sûfiya mosque and the surrounding square.
She found the traffic unusually heavy as she crossed the green waters of the Nile on the el-Giza Bridge, accelerating gently to swing south onto the dual carriageway in her Cherokee. She had expected the whole of Cairo to be at home, stuck in front of their radios and televisions.
The sun beat in through the wide window. The radio report was followed by further news, not totally unconnected with the shattering event of last night. She pulled down the sun visor and increased the amount of fresh air coming through the blower. Other countries, already hostile to Egypt, had some predictable but viciously unpleasant things to say.
Aswan 956 Kilometers
The sign always brought home the realities of long-distance travel to the tourists sitting goggle-eyed in their air-conditioned coaches. 956 kilometers, with a short break after 765 kilometers for them to have a hurried look round Luxor. No wonder most of the tourists flew or took the train: it gave them more time to be enclosed in the security of their air-conditioned hotels. The traffic sign made today’s two hour journey to Beni Mazar seem like a short hop in comparison.
“In Cairo religious extremists of various groups are being rounded up for questioning. The police are looking…”
Nayra waited for the coach to slow down, to let her in, but the driver obviously had no intention of letting a battered Jeep go past.
“Cardinal Fitz of the Unity Through Faith Croup, who is staying in Cairo for a meeting that had been planned for this evening at the al-Sûfiya mosque, was one of the first foreigners to comment. He expressed his sincere condolences to all the families of the dead and injured in the surrounding houses. He announced that he is determined the meeting will still take place this week, and he is urgently trying to find an alternative date and venue. In England, the Archbishop of Canterbury says he believes that levelheaded believers of all faiths will …”
The coach fell back slightly and Nayra took advantage of the upward gradient to slip in front. There would be more coaches ahead, with the same obstinate drivers, and lines of private cars clogging the highway, but she could be in Beni Mazar soon after noon. If Ahmed had been messing about with the warhead he would regret it.
“A man seen loitering outside the mosque shortly before the explosion is suspected of being part of the plot. In view of the severity of the explosion, identity of the bodies will take some time, and police are asking anyone who witnessed the man…”
Ahmed had gone back to disarm the explosives and made a terrible mistake. The Cherokee pounded its way up the Nile highway, its huge tires sweeping the vehicle forward with a powerful roar. The noise on the sandy tarmac became monotonous, and only the cut and thrust with coach and truck drivers enabled Nayra to keep awake. And a much larger number of private cars than usual. Yesterday had been a bad day.
“In England a group of historians studying the ancient writings of the pharaohs claim to have predicted…”
She switched off the radio. She had one task to perform and then she would be free of all obligations: check the switch on the warhead and keep away from Cairo. A brisk north easterly breeze blew across the Nile today. She would reset the warhead and keep going south to Aswan. With eight hundred kilometers between herself, and the midnight explosion that would take place tomorrow in Beni Mazar, she wanted to be well clear of the fall-out.
INTERNATIONAL NEWS BUREAU
Rumors are today sweeping through Jerusalem that the Israeli military is planning a preemptive nuclear strike against Egypt. While many Israeli citizens are supportive of strong action, the doves in the cabinet have called for a public denial of such an intention. The role of the United States Air Force in the Egyptian Red Sea base at Râs Banâs near Berenice is under question by several Arab countries. Analysts say the fragile treaties of the past that allowed NATO forces into Egyptian military sites may be torn up as the United States aircraft carrier Constellation prepares to enter the Mediterranean to get close to the Egyptian coastline.
ENDERMANN sat back in the best armchair that the lounge at the London West End hotel could offer. Two senior foreign correspondents representing America’s most powerful newspapers, and two correspondents from the more serious British broadsheets had joined him nearly an hour ago for an unofficial press briefing.
“You guys are always pushing me for comments you can quote.” Endermann laughed, helping himself to a plain biscuit from the white china plate. “More coffee, anyone?”
One of the Englishman held out his cup. “The Institute of Egyptologists here seems to be predicting these events pretty well. Do you know anything about them?”
Endermann filled the cup from the insulated jug. “They do seem to have a handle on a few events.”
“So are we to believe them?”
“Gentlemen.” Endermann put on an embarrassed smile. “If you think they know the future, I suggest you pay them a visit. You might even be able to publish tomorrow’s news today.”
The men laughed at the joke, but he seemed to have aroused interest.
“A lot of rumors are flying around the press about nuclear warheads,” said one of the Americans. “There doesn’t seem to be any point of origin, but they have a ring of authenticity. I know you’re not with the United States government, but you always seem to have an ear in Washington and Langley. Straight out, does Egypt have a nuclear capability?”
“Hold it.” Endermann shook his head. “You can’t expect me to comment on that.”
“We won’t be using your name as the source,” said the reporter from the British press. “But you’re involved with the security services.”
“I don’t work for them. I just listen.”
“We’ve contacted the Pentagon. They have no comment, but someone hinted at the possibility, and you’ve been showing us those satellite photos that ‘happened to come your way.’”
“I’ve told you, I don’t work for the government. How can I tell you what the Pentagon can’t?”
“Can’t, or won’t?”
“Look, I’m having more coffee.” Endermann took his time pouring his second cup. Thank God he’d not sent Spaxley loose on this lot. He wouldn’t have them eating out his hand like this. He looked at all four selected correspondents in turn.
They said nothing.
He smiled in weary resignation, running through his carefully rehearsed performance. “I could be in serious trouble for speaking to you guys. Let me just say this. There are certain areas of Israel that U.S. military intelligence is keeping a close watch on.”
“Nuclear?” asked one of the British correspondents.
Endermann said nothing. It was the way to play this one.
“Care to tell us where?” both Americans asked in unison.
Endermann shook his head. “No more questions.” He raised a finger. “And definitely no quotes attributable to me. But I’ll say this: the Pentagon reckons that if Israel uses her nuclear capability, she’s finished.”
Beni Suef, Egypt
NAYRA DREW the hot Cherokee into the shelter of a gas station and filled the tank. Just over halfway to Beni Mazar, and already an hour and a half gone. The journey was slow but accident free so far. It seemed that lots of Cairenes were going south for safety. Well, they would need to go a lot further south than Beni Mazar!
“You want oil, missee?”
Nayra shook her head and strolled over to the small stand offering fruit and vegetables. The morning papers shouted headlines of murder and destruction. There would be nothing in the papers that she hadn’t already heard on the radio.
“Very bad news, missee. You come from Cairo?”
Nayra ignored the young Arab’s question and paid cash for the fuel. The sun beat down from high above her head as she walked back to the Cherokee. Aten, the disc of the sun. It was stupid, but the thought of Aten had become obsessive. All the way up the Nile the sun had shone in her eyes, leading the way to Beni Mazar. She banged the door shut. The rest of the journey should take just over the hour.
Drive to Beni Mazar, check that Ahmed had not disarmed the warhead, then get south to Aswan for safety. Ahmed had promised her immunity, but no one could be trusted in this business. She once thought she could trust Ahmed, but the only person she could depend on was herself. She felt no bitterness in this observation, and recognized the idea was not a new one.
She pressed her foot hard on the gas pedal. Trusting in your own abilities was the only sure way to stay alive. The pain inside merely confirmed the time-worn precept: never trust a man.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
GRESLEY WYNNE had not dared believe that he could have so much influence over a group of reporters. Until this morning his experience with reporters was that they were mostly disrespectful in their attitude to the prophecies. The Second Partner had given him a herbal capsule twenty minutes before entering the crowded Hall of Aten, and it had helped steady his nerves. The Second Partner had been into special remedies for a long time, but had rarely offered them to others. Denby Rawlins’ initial offer had been an injection of a safe herbal extract. He’d declined. No jab with a needle could be totally safe.
“Professor, you used the term Star of Bethlehem just now. Do you think this light in the sky will be another Star of Bethlehem?”
Gresley Wynne let the incorrect, but complimentary, title pass without comment. Mr. Grant had prepared him for this question. “Perhaps not a Savior this time, but certainly a new era in the Middle East. The prophecy refers to an age of peace, after the destruction.”
“The destruction of what? The Jews?”
He knew he had to hesitate here. Mr. Grant had been insistent. “It is … not clear.”
“Not clear? It seems clear to us,” called one man.
“Do you see yourself as taking an active role, Professor?” shouted another.
The title seemed to be sticking now. Fielding these questions was easy. That capsule had been remarkably good for the nerves. He glanced down at the red binder in his steady hands. His whole manner exuded an uncharacteristic boldness that took him by surprise. “I have no wish for personal glory. I see the work of the Institute as being the mouthpiece of Aten, nothing more.”
“Professor Wynne, is it true those words came from deciphering the Pyramid Texts?”
“With the aid of the cylinder of Aten.”
“Professor!” A young female reporter waved his notepad. She looked like trouble, and Mr. Grant had warned that there would be a few such journalists present. “People might say that you listened to the news last night and then wrote down what was going to happen.”
Gresley Wynne nodded. Don’t antagonize anyone. He could hear Mr. Grant saying it. Smile, look confident, and try to get them on your side. “I take it you mean the destruction of the al-Sûfiya mosque in Cairo. You are correct, anyone can guess the runners when the race is over.” Good words those. Mr. Grant had suggested them. “Mr. Tolley of the Herald was with me last night, writing his report for this morning’s edition. I’m sure he will confirm that the prophecy was written long before the actual event.”
Bill Tolley had chosen to sit in the front row. “That’s right,” he said, giving nothing more away.
“When was this handout written?”
“It is a summary of the Institute’s research carried out over the last twelve months using the Egyptian cylinder to decode the Pyramid Texts. The handout was printed three days ago.”
“There’s a mistake.” A woman at the back held up a copy. “You got it right about the house of God falling, but it says here that the people of the One God will perish. The Unity group weren’t meeting at the mosque until tonight, so they’re still alive.”
He’d wanted to change the copies, but Mr. Grant had been smart. Mr. Tolley had seen a copy of the handout last night, and would have been the first to notice such an alteration. The words from Mr. Grant’s briefing were still clear in his mind, and could be repeated almost word for word.
“You must realize that with all prophecy there is a certain haze, a mist hanging between the source of all knowledge and the recipient. We have worked from the ancient writings of the Egyptian priests in the time of King Unas, and they themselves were working from knowledge imparted by Aten. An infallible translation of ancient words is sometimes difficult for us today. The ancient Egyptian words for ‘The people of the One God’ can also be translated ‘the work of the One God”. We accept that there may be minor inaccuracies in the Institute’s interpretation, but without doubt the mosque was clearly the work of God, and it has been destroyed.”
This was the moment when the First Partner feared there would be laughter. But the explanation was received in silence.
“And your discovery includes clear references to the Second World War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and even the Gulf War?”
“All the major events that affect the Middle East since nineteen twenty are accurately foretold on this cylinder. Not in detail of course, but enough for us to establish the accuracy of the chronology.” He began to feel a surge of confidence. Perhaps overconfidence. He paused. “As you will see from your press handouts, there must have been other cylinders covering previous centuries, but these unfortunately are now missing.”
“If a cylinder covers a hundred years, would you care to tell us why there is so much detail for the next few days?”
“That, gentlemen, we will only know once the prophecies have come to pass.” Mr. Grant’s words again. “I too find myself wondering why. Something even more momentous than two world wars must be in the offing.”
“We know that it will be an event of great significance, not just for the Middle East but for the whole world. That much Aten has made clear.”
“So when are we going to see the Star of Bethlehem?”
A voice called out, “When will we see the light in the sky, squire?”
“My name is Doctor Wynne.” It was a mistake; he knew it immediately. He’d made himself sound pompous. Distant.
“The light, Professor!”
“Yes, the light.” He tried to regain his smile. “Ladies and gentlemen of the press, there are signs in the heavens that are central to the ancient writings. An alignment of the stars and planets. If our interpretation is correct, you will see the great light very soon indeed.”
Gresley Wynne shook his head and forced another smile. “The words were written over four thousand years ago. I cannot be precise to within a few hours.”
“But there is going to be a Star of Bethlehem?”
“Gentlemen, Aten calls it a light in the sky between Lower and Upper Egypt. That puts it somewhere between Cairo and Aswan, but nowhere near Bethlehem. The name of the star is a term coined by the press, it is not wording from the cylinder.” He raised his hands. Denby Rawlins’ capsule had been good, but he was beginning to feel the strain of the press conference. It was time for a break. “You can only judge a prophecy by its fulfillment” He remembered Mr. Grant’s advice and looked around the room and smiled. “When you see the light in the sky over Egypt you will know beyond a shadow of doubt that Aten is speaking the truth. A fire in the heavens that will descend on the land like a plague. We must patiently await the final fulfillment.”
Someone at the back raised a hand, but he ignored it.
“We will stop now for coffee. The computer room and the whole of the Institute are available for your inspection. We have nothing to hide. My Second Partner, Denby Rawlins, will be pleased to conduct you round our facilities. A little later I will answer questions for the television cameras. For the moment I need a rest.”
“You’ve not told us about the Eagle of Darkness? When will it leave its nest?”
Gresley Wynne stared. It wasn’t a reporter who had shouted out the question, it was Mr. Bolt, the pilot. What was the man up to?
“One step at a time, gentlemen. I do not propose to reveal the whole prophecy until I am sure that our interpretation is correct. I have no wish to cause unnecessary panic in the Middle East.”
He sat down behind the Table of Life, exhausted. Mr. Bolt’s question had thrown him. Mrs. Pulaski should have known better than to let her friend anywhere near the conference. The Eagle of Darkness leaving its nest. How did the man know about that part of the prophecy? He must consult with Mr. Grant before reconvening.
Feeling drained, he decided to gamble on his first ever herbal injection from Denby Rawlins.
Abu Girg, Egypt
THE CHEROKEE had run well, but the congestion on the Aswan route up the Nile valley meant a painfully slow journey, with only the radio for company. Apart from the traffic, a feeling of uncontrollable weariness forced Nayra to drive more slowly than she would have liked. Perhaps the whole journey was pointless. Perhaps Ahmed had never made it up here from the al-Sûfiya mosque last night, and the circuits would still be live.
“Israel has strongly denied any part in the atrocity. A spokesman for the Israeli government has said that the whole of Israel…”
The low buildings and green palms on the edge of Abu Girg made welcome scenery. Beni Mazar would not be far now.
The squat dwellings with their flat roofs marked the turning place. She swung the large Jeep west onto the rough track that crossed the railway line, all the while looking for the sign to the industrial area. It would not be many kilometers. From now she was relying on Ahmed’s description of the chosen site. This was where the man with the bright blue Mitsubishi had come to deliver the package: the man whose throat she had slit for the sake of security.
Nayra felt proud of her memory. The man had mentioned the Coca Cola sign. And there it was, old and battered by the sun and the frequent sandstorms, marking the spot as well as any cross on a treasure map. Riddled with rusty stone chips, it hung crookedly on the wall. The buildings of the industrial estate would be around the turn in the track.
“Messages of condolence continue to pour in. The prime minister of Great Britain, speaking on behalf of the whole nation, has said that the close connections with the Egyptian people in the past have ensured a special…”
She turned the radio off as an old Arab, possibly a watchman or a goatherd, started to walk slowly in her direction.
“Is this the El Shuhada estate?” she asked, keeping the door locked and her window open only a crack.
“You looking for someone special, lady?”
She wondered whether to drive on. The squalid man had a most unpleasant grin. “I’m looking for the buildings of the Alexandria Packing Company.”
“You found them, lady. You follow me. My name is Caleb. I look after the place when no one is here.”
She engaged the drive, opened her window fully, and leaned out as the filthy man limped his way alongside the Cherokee. “Has anyone else been here today?”
“No one come here for many days, lady.”
“Are you sure, Caleb?” She stopped the Jeep. “You wouldn’t lie to a lady.”
“Caleb tell truth to all ladies. As Allah is my witness, no one has been here since the big blue wagon came with the wooden box. You come to collect the box, lady?”
She raised the window quickly. That man had more flies around him than a dead goat, and they were getting into the Cherokee. Perhaps Caleb was telling the truth, but he wasn’t to be trusted. Money, plenty of money, made men stick together and become liars. “Go away,” she shouted through the glass. She could see the building now, only a few meters ahead.
Caleb stood with a hand stretched out.
“All right, Caleb, I give you money and then you go away. Fast.” She took some coins from the purse Ahmed had bought her in Cairo, and lowered the window as the man shuffled over. Before he could grab them she let the coins fall onto the rough stones. That would keep the disagreeable goatherd busy for a few minutes.
Straight in front of you as you open the door.
The man in Cairo had been specific, before having his throat cut. He had joked and drunk his full of local beer after returning from here late that night, obviously happy at the prospect of a night in bed with the woman who paid him his money. She had left his body with the rubbish. Only a fool trusted a woman.
She took the keys from her pocket. A thin line of sand had blown against the bottom of the door, but it had been broken recently. Someone, either Caleb or Ahmed, had been in here within the past few hours.
CALEB STARED at the female figure bending forward to look through the glass of the door. The tight blue jeans were not suitable clothing for a woman, but he found her exciting. This was the clothing of Western women, and Western women were free and easy with their bodies. All Egyptians knew that.
He had finished his search for the money. The woman had been mean. Deep in her pockets would be more money, and feeling deep in her pockets would be enjoyable. The packing case had fascinated him ever since the man had brought it here. Only this morning he had used his pass key to inspect it once again. Getting the cover off the wooden crate had been easy. Opening the large metal container inside the crate had been impossible. It needed a key.
The woman had keys. She was using them now to open the door. He felt excited. Who would witness a woman meeting with death in this lonely site? And who would care anyway? A woman, an Arab dressed like a Westerner, should be made to pay for her folly.
The woman did not even notice as he bent over to pick up a large stone. He weighed it carefully in his hand and prepared for the throw, just the one, and not too hard. By the power of all that was beautiful, the woman showed a desirable body as she fell to the ground. He would have some pleasure if he could keep her alive.
But first he must use the keys to investigate the large metal container.
“No, Caleb! No!”
Caleb turned, grinning. The woman was very much alive, and would keep him happy for the whole afternoon. Then he would dump the body in the wadi, and his cousin would be glad of the bright blue pickup.
“Don’t put the key in the switch!”
“You rest now, lady, and let me see what is in here.”
“No, Caleb! You’ll kill us all!”
The afternoon was going to be fun. He turned the key.
ABU GIZIRA had worked on this railway track for nearly twenty-four years. He had rarely known the track to give trouble, but the railway company paid him to walk by the side of the lines once a week and report any defects.
The blazing sun made walking the track tedious. Someone in the town said there would be strange signs on the moon this week. The sky was truly a place full of wonder. Abu Gizira stood in the shade of the palm trees at the junction near Matai, and looked back towards Beni Mazar a few kilometers to the north.
The sudden flash of light rose up from the ground like the largest firework that had ever been made.
The railway worker fell forward as the light roared with a sound that carried a blast of air, lifting him from behind and carrying him towards the white cloud in a shrieking hurricane. And all the time the light grew brighter and rose higher into the sky, spreading out like an enormous tree.
The noise was terrifying; the light blinding.
The pain was severe.
The heat deadly.
It tore at his soul.
May God be merciful.
This was the end of the world.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
THE RING of one mobile phone was quickly joined by others, until the Institute seemed to be filled with an electronic symphony. Sam watched the news-crazy reporters return to the Hall of Aten in a frenzied rush. He maneuvered himself to be close to Bill Tolley.
“What’s going on?”
Bill raised a finger. “Seems they got it right. Twice.”
“Professor!” A shout from the back.
“Professor Wynne! Over here, Professor!” Voices came from everywhere trying to get the First Partner’s undivided attention.
Gresley Wynne seemed somewhat bewildered by the sudden intrusion, and the stylish young presenter from a major morning show looked angry at the interruption of his live television interview. “Give us a break, lads,” he begged.
“Egypt’s been hit by a nuclear strike!”
“It’s their own bomb,” barked another voice.
“UFO explodes over pyramids,” one reporter called out. “That’s a headline for the Sunday Sport.” And there was laughter.
“Gentlemen, I fail to understand what has happened.” Gresley Wynne turned to Denby Rawlins who had been standing just off camera. “What is this about Egypt?”
Sam watched the Second Partner nod rapidly. “Wonderful things are happening in Egypt. First the building of God, and now the light in the sky. We must tell these people everything Aten has taught us.”
“Can we go somewhere alone, Dr. Wynne?” asked Bill Tolley. “I can guarantee you a sympathetic interview.”
The TV cameras were still running for the morning show. Sam could see that the press conference was rapidly getting out of hand. Gresley Wynne seemed to be looking for someone, unsuccessfully.
“The light in the sky? Is it a nuclear bomb?”
“Do you think it’s Armageddon. Professor?” someone else shouted.
Gresley Wynne shook his head. “You know more about these events in Egypt than I do. When did this explosion happen?”
“Don’t ask us, get on the phone to Aten.” There were some comedians in the room, and judging by Gresley Wynne’s expression, the ridicule hurt.
“Gentlemen,” said Gresley Wynne holding up both hands, “we will have a break while we find out exactly what has happened in Egypt.”
Bill Tolley stood up. “Dr. Wynne has no more comment to make.” At the same time he took the First Partner firmly by the arm. “Can we talk in your study?”
Sam made sure he got close as Denby Rawlins pushed forward to be at Gresley Wynne’s side, blocking the view from the television cameras as well as preventing Gresley Wynne from leaving. In his hands the Second Partner held the red binder. “Tell them, First Partner, tell them everything that Aten says.”
Gresley Wynne took the binder and held it close to his body with both hands.
Bill Tolley waved his arms to silence the rabble. “Dr. Wynne wants to talk to me alone.”
But the First Partner turned to the morning TV presenter. “Is your camera still switched on?” he asked.
The man nodded.
“Listen, everyone,” called Gresley Wynne, “I have in my hand the full text of the words of Aten. They are not available yet on a handout, for none of us here foresaw the need.”
He had to wait for the sudden laughter to die down.
“The prophecy is being fulfilled faster than we anticipated,” he explained. “Maybe our computers were a day or so out.” He paused but there were no questions, no more insulting shouts. “Then I will read it to you.”
Sam watched Bill Tolley at work. The younger reporters held out their miniature recorders, but Tolley flicked his pen over the page in a neat shorthand. For all the tension that had been built up with the phone calls from their news editors, everyone seemed relaxed. Gresley Wynne especially. Maybe the man was also on some sort of medication.
Sam began to run back through the earlier events. The phone rang in the pocket of a reporter standing near the doorway.
“Your editor’s only just heard,” someone called out. “No wonder your paper always prints yesterday’s news!”
The comment caused uproar, but Gresley Wynne quickly brought the gathering back into line. “Gentlemen, we have now dealt with the two prophecies that you have on your press release. The question I have to ask myself is whether I should proceed with the third.”
Sam let his eyes wander round the room. An agitated figure stood in the doorway, waving a piece of paper as though to catch Dr. Wynne’s eve. But Dr. Wynne seemed oblivious to his presence.
Sam nudged Bill Tolley. “Know who that is?”
Tolley turned and drew in his breath sharply.
Dr. Wynne seemed to be on a high. “This is what Aten says. The light in the sky between the Lower and Upper kingdoms will bring the nation with false power to its knees. The Man of Power will prescribe a new age of peace upon the lands.”
“We know that, Professor. It’s on the handout.”
Gresley Wynne coughed, his face looking flushed with adrenaline. “I have not allowed you to know the whole of that prediction, because it contains additional information that could cause great concern to certain people.”
“Tell us now.”
“Thank you, gentlemen, I intend to.”
Sam noticed how the First Partner let his eyes flick round the room anxiously. “Yes, indeed. I must reveal it to you now. Aten says: The people will fall down in fear before the great light. The people of the Hebrews will dance in triumph and will seek their own ends. Before I can ride twice through the sky, the Hebrews will fill the lands of Upper and Lower Egypt with even greater terror. When the moon is suddenly darkened, the Eagle of Darkness will soar from its nest high in the mountains of——”
Everyone jumped with fright. The man in the doorway, a hand to his face as though to avoid recognition, had shouted out. Now he was turning to go.
Gresley Wynne stopped reading immediately. “Gentlemen, I will be back as soon as possible. Please stay here in the Hall of Aten until I return.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
SAM LEANED back against the cushions of the long sofa. “You pointed a man out to me, Bill. He stood in the doorway and shouted to Dr. Wynne to stop. You seemed to know him.”
“Grant Spaxley. He’s American. Admiral Grant Spaxley he calls himself, but he’s no more an admiral than Gresley Wynne is a professor. He was a press spokesman for the White House when I knew him. I imagine he’s retired now.”
“You’re wrong,” said Panya who was standing in the doorway, waiting the kettle to boil. “His name is Mr. Grant. He’s the American who arrived last night.”
Bill Tolley had assumed his relaxed position, one leg hanging over the arm of the sofa. “Grant is his first name, darling. I couldn’t find him after we broke up, but it was Grant Spaxley all right.” Tolley waited until Panya returned. “I heard that one of the Partners was taken ill.”
“That will be Andy Olsen.” Panya placed the mugs on the table and started to play her CD of gypsy music from Berlin.
“Do you know where Andy is now, darling?”
Panya shrugged. “Some private clinic, I think.”
“And that’s another thing that bothers me,” said Tolley. “The professor doesn’t know where he’s been taken.”
“Doctor,” said Panya. “Gresley Wynne has a doctorate.”
“Doctorate? I doubt if he’s got anything more than a doctor’s sick note. Now, if I could find out what Admiral Spaxley is doing at the Institute, I might have another scoop.” Bill Tolley was obviously thinking aloud. He went to the window and drew back the curtain slightly. “I wouldn’t mind getting back into the Institute to take a look round.”
“Panya’s got a key.” said Sam. “She could get you in there tonight.”
Panya raised a finger to her lips and stared up at the ceiling.
“Something wrong?” asked Sam.
“It’s that noise again.”
“Andy Olsen?” asked Sam, as he turned to look where Panya was pointing.
Panya shook her head. “Andy Olsen’s in hospital.”
A small bump and then silence from the ceiling.
“You all wait here,” said Sam, his voice shaking with unexpected anger. “I’m going up through the bathroom hatch. Whoever it is up there, I’m going to kill him.”
“YOU BASTARD! You filthy Peeping Tom!” Sam watched the man dragging himself away from the pool of light that streamed up through the hatch. Dressed in a cream gown, he had a striped blue and cream hand towel covering his head. Within seconds Sam was up through the hole, taking a firm grip of the man’s collar.
Panya stood on the edge of the bath looking up through the opening, unable to obey Sam’s instructions to stay in the living room. “Who is it?”
“It’s that dirty old man who keeps giving you looks.” Sam dragged his prisoner along the dusty boards until they came to the hatch. He pushed the man’s head through, holding him by the back of the gown. “I’ve a good mind to tip you down there headfirst. You’re a pervert, a filthy pervert!”
“It’s Denby Rawlins.” Panya sounded as anxious as she looked. “What are we going to do with him?”
“I’ll strangle him if you like.”
Bill Tolley came into the bathroom to see the cause of the disturbance. The Second Partner’s head was still sticking through the hatch, going redder by the second. The striped towel had fallen into the bath.
“He’s a Peeping Tom,” Sam called down, in case an explanation was required. “Let’s throw him into the bath and drown him.”
Denby Rawlins made no sound.
“Pass him down feet first,” said Tolley.
“I’ll kill him first if you like.” Sam felt so provoked that he began to wonder if he really might kill this scumbag from the oddball Institute, and the thought frightened him.
It took several minutes to lower the Second Partner, with Panya and Bill Tolley helping.
“You’ve hurt him,” said Panya. “He can’t move.”
“Good,” said Sam.
Denby Rawlins began to show signs of life. He stared at Panya. Suddenly he sat up as though jolted by an electric shock, his eyes bright red. “My maiden of the temple. My precious, precious maiden of the temple.”
“You’re disgusting,” said Sam, suddenly realizing the reason for the strange gown. “Who do you think you are? Some sort of ancient priest?”
The Second Partner reached out his hands and began to stand. “Give your body to the priest of Aten, my flower. Often I have seen your body, and your flesh is the flesh of a child.”
Panya began to blush as she gripped her sweatshirt tightly around the front. “I told you someone was up there, Sam. He’s either mad, or on drugs.”
“Drugs,” said Sam in disgust. ‘He’s been up there giving himself thrills. It wasn’t Andy Olsen.”
“But Olsen was on drugs,” said Panya.
“They might all be like it at the Institute for all I know,” said Sam as he helped Tolley walk the man into the hallway. “Dr. Wynne seemed to be high on something when he was talking to the press.”
“Let’s phone the police.” Panya wrinkled up her nose at the smell of the man’s breath. “I’ll probably lose my job here, but he ought to be locked away for his own good.”
Bill Tolley felt in the man’s gown pockets. Everyone had gone silent as he turned to see the faces watching him. “Drugs would make a good enough story, but if Admiral Spaxley is involved, there’s more to the Institute than drugs. I’m looking for papers,” he explained without any shame. “I’m going to get my next exclusive.”
Panya shook her head. “Sorry, Bill, but you can’t search him here. This is my house.”
“That’s ridiculous, Panya.” Sam still felt livid. It would be irresponsible not to go through the man’s pockets. There might be evidence that could involve the whole Institute in the drugs ring. Of course, there might be pictures of Panya in the bath, but he’d keep that thought to himself.
“Come, fair maiden, you were destined to serve the servants of Aten. Come and be the priest’s delight.”
“You’re pathetic,” said Panya. “I almost feel sorry for you. Look at the state you’re in.”
Bill Tolley opened a piece of paper he had taken from Denby Rawling’s gown pocket. He read it and showed it to Sam. It was a printout of an email.
Sam turned again to the old man. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll put my knee between your legs so hard that even in five years time one dirty little thought will bring you pain. Understand?” He waved his fist in Denby Rawlins’ face. “Do you understand?”
“Careful, Sam.” Panya held out a hand.
Sam wasn’t giving up just because Panya didn’t like it. “What’s Mr. Grant doing at the Institute”?
Bill Tolley stood up. “He’s not Mr. Grant, he’s Admiral Grant Spaxley.” He leaned forward until his face was close to Denby Rawlins. “Tell us about this email.”
Sam held the Second Partner by his shoulders. “Tell us, or you’ll get my knee.”
“I have my medicine up there in the roof. Please get it for me.”
“Drugs you mean.” Sam pushed the man backwards onto the sofa. “Tell us how you got this email.”
“Two days ago the computers crashed. I had reason to believe Olsen was to blame.”
“So you searched his possessions?”
“He was sleeping. I thought there might be a clue in his pockets to the bug he had implanted.”
“And this is what you found?” Sam held the email close to the old man’s face.
“You’re bullying me. I cannot think properly.”
“Back off a bit, Sam,” warned Panya.
Sam felt an intense hatred for the man who had been spying on … on who, his girlfriend? “This email is from someone called Endermann. He says that if Admiral Spaxley comes down, he and Olsen mustn’t be seen talking together. Explain it.”
Denby Rawlins shook his head. “Please, my medicine is in the roof.”
Bill Tolley took hold of Sam’s outstretched arm. “I don’t think he knows anything about the Admiral.”
“Then why did you make such a fuss when you found it, Bill?”
“Because this email means that Spaxley and Olsen are working for the same group.”
“Spaxley was White House. If this is an official operation, the secret services could put us out of action if they know we’ve got this email. Executive action they call it.”
“That only happens in films.” Panya laughed awkwardly. “The secret services aren’t really killers.”
Bill Tolley pointed to their captive who was now sitting in a daze, staring vacantly at the fireplace. “Then who killed those people around the mosque in Cairo, and who blew up half the Egyptian desert with a nuclear device?”
“Hang on,” said Sam, “that was the prophecy.”
“Bill’s right,” said Panya, running her hands through her long dark hair. “Prophecy or not, someone still did it.”
Institute of Egyptologists, England
“IF LANGLEY realize what we’re doing, we’re dead.” Endermann sounded unexpectedly anxious on the phone.
“What sort of idiots have you got working on this one?” retorted Spaxley, getting up from the desk in Dr. Wynne’s office. He went to the door and checked the hallway. It was empty. “How secure is this line?”
“Withington’s happy about it. He’s up here with me now in London. And don’t get on your high horse about our people in Cairo.”
“Our people, Endermann? I never sanctioned this scenario. Does Ahmed have trouble knowing the days of the week or something?”
“I blame the woman who was helping him. Nayra’s gone to ground.”
“We can still proceed with the next stage.” Spaxley didn’t want to underestimate the difficulties in the operation. “I’ll get over to Cairo if you like.”
The was just silence from Endermann.
“Are you still on the line?”
Endermann spoke softly. “This line may not be as secure as we thought. Withington’s picking up some sort of back echo. Thinks there may be a magnetic pick-up on the line. Stay at the Institute, Admiral. I’m coming straight down. I can be with you soon after midnight. Meet me at the main gates to the Institute. We’ll talk in my car.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
THE PORTABLE fax machine in the rear of the large station wagon printed out the last page from the London press cuttings agency, and finished its run with a beep.
“Arab Countries Face Nuclear Threat from Israel. Good headline. Let’s see what the Telegraph correspondent has to say?” Endermann sat in the front of the large Chrysler, reading the pages as they emerged from the machine. “Well, I guess it’s all pretty predictable.”
“Egypt Innocent Victim of Nuclear Aggression. That’s the New York Times,” said Spaxley. “I knew that journalist once. Good reporter. Listen to the Washington Post. Egypt’s Secret Nuclear Arsenal. Nice and conflicting.”
“That’s what you’re here for, Admiral, to spread confusion.” Endermann turned his huge frame towards Spaxley and grinned. “How about, Israel to Blame Say Arab States? That’s the Daily Express.”
“Nuked!” Spaxley laughed. “A typical English tabloid reaction. They say the Sun is popular in England.”
“Here’s what we really need to see. The Iranian response.” Endermann held a sheet of paper printed in Arabic. “The front page of al-Jomhuriya, Egypt’s newspaper. Just look at the heading. Israel’s Violation of Arab Peace. It goes on. The State of Israel and its treacherous Western accomplices were behind yesterday’s nuclear blast that devastated a most beautiful part of ancient Egypt, with many thousands of deaths. It has been long known that the sons of Satan enabled Israel to build a nuclear arsenal large enough to annihilate the peace-loving Arab States. That’s a close enough translation. Iraq and her allies have assured Egypt that they are already preparing to…” He paused. “It hasn’t come over clearly on this copy. “To strike back against Israel in kind, I think it must be.”
Spaxley said, “A strike back in kind can only mean one thing…”
“ … The destruction of Israel,” finished Endermann, nodding in satisfaction. “And here’s the Gulf Times. Says more or less the same thing. I need Kramer to contact me, but he’s gone silent. My cell phone might as well be switched off for all the use he’s making of it.”
“You too embarrassed to phone him yourself?” Spaxley raised his eyebrows.
“ Orders, Admiral. Kramer has made it plain that I don't contact him -- ever. He's terrified of someone at Langley listening in."
“Maybe he’s left us both to carry the can.”
“Then you don’t know Kramer. He’s ultra careful, that’s all. Suits me, that’s for sure.”
“Any news on casualties?”
“A few hundred Arabs dead. Nothing too serious. Many thousand is probably an exaggeration. No Americans as far as we know, thank God.”
“And the burnt and irradiated?”
“We need casualties, Admiral. There’s no news without casualties.”
“Is the Unity group backing out?”
“Are they hell? They’ve already announced that they’re now going to use one of the old churches in Cairo.”
“Wouldn’t a synagogue have been better?”
“Nothing would give me greater pleasure than blowing a synagogue, but the Israelis are hardly likely to get the blame for it. The blast at the church won’t be big. With Ahmed missing, there’s no time to organize enough Semtex to bring the walls down.”
“You want me to issue a revised prophecy?”
“Work on it, Admiral. We need our holy war: Muslins killing Christians, and Christians killing Arabs, and the Jews taking the blame.”
“It’s all a game of soldiers to you.” Spaxley stared out of the darkened Chrysler and pulled a cigar from his top pocket.
“If you’re lighting that thing you can put the window down,” snapped Endermann.
Spaxley shook his head. “It’s too damn cold out there.” But he grudgingly lowered it half way.
Endermann remained silent as he looked through the fax pages. Then, “I suppose you realize what’s missing from these press cuttings?”
“Yes, any mention of the prophecy.” Spaxley drew on his cigar and turned to the back of the station wagon, looking at the fax machine as though it might burst into life with the missing pages. “Let’s wait. It will be in the next editions.”
“I hope to God you’re right, Admiral. If the press don’t pick up the prophecy on this one, we’re both in trouble.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
BILL TOLLEY let the curtain fall back into place. “They’re still out there. I’d give anything to have a bug inside that car.”
“I thought the press code didn’t allow such things,” said Panya.
“Lady, you’re so sweet and innocent.”
“So I’ve been told.” Panya put on a cute smile. “Probably more innocent than sweet.”
Bill Tolley nodded towards the sprawled figure of Denby Rawlins on the sofa. “We shouldn’t be talking in front of him.”
Panya bent down and lifted one of the Second Partner’s eyelids. “We can’t leave him here.”
“Go to the house and tell Dr. Wynne about him, there’s a good girl,” said Tolley. “That professor ought to know what this man gets up to in his spare time.”
“That’s thoughtful of you,” said Panya dryly. “I didn’t know the press could be so caring.”
Tolley just grinned. “I’ll think I’ll come with you, darling. While you’re talking, I can get my personal recorder. I left it running in the office.”
Panya shook her head. “You can get your recorder in the morning. It will be safe enough overnight. Darling.”
“No offence meant.” Tolley obviously got the point, but Sam guessed he was unlikely to change.
“I’ve connected it to a magnetic pick-up on the Institute’s phone line,” continued Tolley. “I want to find out who Admiral Spaxley’s been talking to since the press conference finished.”
“We could take the recording to the American Embassy if it’s interesting,” Panya suggested.
“Not if the CIA is involved we couldn’t.” Bill Tolley tried to take hold of Panya’s hand. “We know too much.”
Panya avoided Tolley’s hand and held Sam’s instead. “I think Bill is just a cynical old journalist. Nobody does that sort of thing in real life.” And she squeezed Sam’s hand hard as though the pressure would make her words be true.
Sam decided to do something practical. “I’m going out there.”
“Where?” asked Panya.
“To get close to that car. Maybe I can hear what’s going on.”
“Rather you than me,” said Tolley.
The Grounds, Institute of Egyptologists, England
ENDERMANN reached round to the back of the fax machine, impatiently twisting the emerging copy so that he could read the heading. “This is it, Admiral.”
Several more pages followed from the late editions, the portable fax running continuously. Spaxley took them from Endermann. “Only two of them have mentioned this place on the front page.”
Endermann shrugged. “Hey, will you look at this one!”
The English dailies had little to say about the prophecy, but the American papers were universal in their enthusiasm for the work of the Institute of Egyptologists.
“They’ve gone for it, right to the bottom line,” said Endermann. “Look, even the White House will be making a statement in the morning. Admiral, you’ve really put the Institute of Egyptologists on the map. I’m off to Berenice to make sure the Eagle is ready to fly. I don’t care a damn where Ahmed is. The lunar eclipse is tomorrow night, and that’s when our big bird has to leave its nest.”
Spaxley leaned back against the passenger seat and lit another cigar. Brought in at the last minute, he’d done his best to pick up the threads and pull them into a tight line. Olsen had failed, but thanks to his White House press skills, Operation Oracle would be a success.
Endermann looked up from a typed fax that had followed the main transmission. “This is from one of my team in Cairo. It seems they’ve dug bits of Ahmed’s body out from under the al-Sûfiya mosque.”
“He sure made a mess of mining that place.” A gust of damp November air entered the station wagon. “Something’s wrong with the timing in Egypt, Endermann. The first two have gone early. Who’s controlling the Eagle of Darkness?”
Endermann grinned. “When the moon is suddenly darkened, the enemy of Upper and Lower Egypt will come like the Eagle of Darkness to fill the land with even greater terror. Good words those. A godammed nuclear device being delivered by air.” He coughed from the smoke. “No problem. My men are waiting for me in Râs Banâs. I’ll be joining them in a few hours, and I know the timetable.”
“Maybe it was a mistake to take Olsen out,” said Spaxley. “He could have changed the wording to suit our convenience. There’s too much pressure now.”
“Finish that cigar and wind that window up, Admiral. It’s too damn chilly!”
Spaxley wound the window fully down and flicked his cigar butt onto the driveway. He felt on the defensive. “I want to run another press conference at the Institute tomorrow.”
Endermann sounded annoyed. “You’ve already been seen, and it’s too late for you to do anything about it. I’m sending Stephan to take over your duties as press officer for the Institute. No one in the media knows him.”
“Don’t want to put your nose out of joint, Admiral. Stephan’s going to need your help behind the scenes.”
“I…” Spaxley opened the door and swung his legs out of the Chrysler and decided not to argue with Endermann. “I’d better be getting back to the Institute”
Entenmanns reached out. “Not so fast, Admiral. Don’t go near the Institute. I want you back in Cheltenham tonight.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he protested.
“It’s an order, Admiral, and you disobey it at your peril.”
He guessed Endermann must have good justification for such a directive, but he wasn’t going to be ordered around. “I’ll just go in and collect my pajamas. It’s cold in Cheltenham.”
“Get in your car now, and drive out of here as fast as you can.”
Reluctantly Spaxley got out of the Chrysler and climbed into his rental car. His headlights swept a harsh glare across the ground as he accelerated down the drive, and just for a moment he thought he caught sight of someone crouching by the bushes.
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
SAM PUSHED the door closed. “I need an atlas. I’ve heard of Berenice, but I can’t think where it is.”
“South of France?” suggested Panya.
“It could be Ethiopia.” Bill Tolley opened the living room door, checked the hall, and closed it again. “Someone after you? You sound breathless.”
“Spaxley was talking to another American in the big Chrysler. Called him Endermann.”
“That’s the name in this email,” said Tolley, unfolding the paper he’d taken from Denby Rawlins’ pocket. “What was Endermann saying?”
“It sounds like he’s launching the Eagle of Darkness from a place near Berenice,” said Sam. “He also mentioned Râs Banâs. I seem to remember Râs Banâs was a military area when I last flew that way. Is Râs Banâs near Berenice?”
Panya produced a world atlas from her bookcase. “Berenice is about as far south as you can go in Egypt.”
“I know it now,” said Sam. “It used to be a prohibited flying zone. Definitely something to do with a large military base.”
Panya leaned over to study the map. “Is the Eagle of Darkness anything to do with the nuclear explosion?”
Sam shrugged. “All I know is it’s being launched from a place called Berenice. They had the car windows closed most of the time. Maybe we should forget it.”
Panya’s eyes flashed behind her small wire framed glasses. “You want people to be incinerated by missiles all over the Middle East? Is that what you want?”
“Hold on, Panya.” Sam knew he’d met a tough cookie with the young widow housekeeper. “Bill’s already said we can’t go to the police.”
“That’s stupid!” There was a blaze of passion in the ex-missionary’s eyes. “I can’t believe that you men are afraid of the local police.”
“This is some fiery woman you’ve got here, Sam.” Bill Tolley shook his head but there was a smile on his face. “Listen, my lovely little lady. PC Plodd can’t go out to Cairo on the next plane and disarm the Egyptians. He’d just pass it up the line to SIS.”
“What’s SIS?” asked Panya. “And don’t patronize me, Bill.”
“SIS is the Secret Intelligence Service. The British secret service. For sweet old fashioned things like you it’s still known as MI6. They deal with overseas security problems, but we don’t know what their role is in this. Am I making myself clear?”
Panya sighed. “I worked with Arabs. I can speak the language. I could be out there helping them.”
“That’s not impossible,” said Tolley. “What’s this group you’re working for?”
“Unity Through Faith. That bomb in the al-Sûfiya mosque was almost certainly meant for us.”
“Would they let you go out to join them now?”
“I could get in touch with Cardinal Fitz. We got into Dr. Wynne’s office last night and faxed him the pages from the red binder.”
Bill Tolley opened his eyes wide. “The two of you broke into the office at the Institute?”
Panya turned up her nose. “For someone who puts bugs on phone lines, you’ve gone very moral all of a sudden.”
Bill Tolley shook his head. “No moral judgment intended, I can assure you, darling. What were you looking for?”
“Anything that might tell us a bit more about the prophecy,” said Sam. “Panya’s an undercover agent for the Pope.”
Panya hit him playfully on the arm. “Hardly an undercover agent. Unity took an interest in their prophecies some time ago relating to the Catholic Church, and more recently saw a possible threat to religious stability in the Middle East. And that’s why I’m here.”
“Can you get me into the Institute without Dr. Wynne knowing?”
“Can you?” repeated Tolley.
Sam looked at Panya. “There’s no need for you to get involved.”
“Now you’re patronizing me, Sam.” She looked at Denby Rawlings lying stretched out flat on the sofa. “Is it safe to leave him?”
“Let him sleep it off,” said Sam dismissively. “You can tell Dr. Wynne about him as soon as Bill’s collected his recorder.”
Panya nodded enthusiastically. “I can check the wastepaper basket in the Admiral’s room. That’s what spies do, isn’t it?”
“It’s risky,” said Sam.
Panya tutted in frustration. “Sam, you can stay here and look after the Second Partner and clean the kitchen floor, if you want something to do. There’s a pinny hanging behind the kitchen door.”
“Stop bickering, you two.” Tolley already had his coat on. “Anyone got a flashlight?”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
THE INTENSE light shone down from above. It was Aten. The voice that had shouted had been Aten speaking in judgment. Aten was upset because his priest had looked too long at the temple virgin. The voice had been angry.
Angry and threatening.
“Hail to you, Aten of daytime, creator of all, who makes all things alive.” Denby Rawlins said the words slowly and turned onto his side where the light seemed less bright. “Rising in heaven formed as Ra, you make seasons with the months, heat as you desire, cold as you desire. You take bodies and embrace them, every land rejoicing at your rising and every day giving praise to you.” He paused. He could see now that the light was nothing more than a bulb under a yellow shade. Aten was not here.
The room looked familiar. Yes, he had been in this place several times, exploring the drawers in the bedroom, feeling the soft underwear. This apartment was a dwelling of arousal. The sweet perfume that rose from the special drawer was a provocation.
The woman had placed a cushion under his head. She had been kind in spite of the anger of the two men who had treated him roughly. He pulled himself up on one elbow and realized that the room was empty. This was the woman’s living room, but she wasn’t here.
The First Partner would be angry when he learned about the spy hole in the hatch. It had happened once before, with another woman who lived here. He only had one friend he could trust, and Andy Olsen had been taken away. Andy Olsen had shared the herbs, but he had been greedy with them.
With an effort, he got unsteadily to his feet and stood for a moment, before sitting heavily on the arm of the sola. The haziness would soon pass. It always did. In a few minutes he would be able to return to the safety of the Institute. He must replace his head covering and straighten his gown. A priest of Aten must never look untidy.
He would come back here tomorrow.
Up into the roof space above the bath. To see the woman all over again.
Institute of Egyptologists, England
“IT’S TOO EARLY. We ought to come back later,” said Panya as the three of them waited in the Hall of Aten. To their alarm, Dr. Wynne had come downstairs and gone into the computer room while they stood silently in the shadows watching.
“Much too early,” muttered Sam. “We can’t even get out of this room now.”
Bill Tolley pulled Sam aside. “Admiral Spaxley could be back soon, and he’d recognize me for sure. Let’s not put your girlfriend in any danger.”
“We’re going back to the Lodge,” announced Sam, ignoring Tolley’s implication of a relationship with Panya. He slipped the catch on the tall window and opened the bottom sash. “And we’re going out this way if we have to make a run for it.”
Bill Tolley held up his hand. “There’s someone out there.”
Footsteps crunched slowly across the gravel, as though walking was a great effort.
“It’s Denby Rawlins.” Panya put a hand to her mouth.
“We should have locked him in,” said Sam.
Bill Tolley put a leg over the low windowsill. “I’m going to stop him ringing the front door bell. I doubt if he’ll put up much resistance.”
The Second Partner of Aten stopped by the window, staring as Bill Tolley climbed out, followed by Sam and Panya. He looked like a drunk and his speech was slurred. “What … what are you all doing here?”
“Sssh.” Panya put her finger to her lips. “We mustn’t wake everyone.”
“Very sensible,” said the Second Partner. “Dr. Wynne doesn’t like a lot of noise.”
“And Dr. Wynne doesn’t like people who peer through holes in bathroom ceilings,” whispered Sam loudly in Denby Rawlins’ ear.
“Oh dear.” The Second Partner stood still. “He was very cross before.”
“He sounds half-witted,” observed Panya. “Do you think he hit his head?”
“Drugs,” said Sam. “For sure.”
“Will you be my friends now?”
Sam looked at the bent figure with the striped towel on his head, and felt disgust. He could never be friends with this louse.
“What do we do with him, poor man?” whispered Panya.
Sam shrugged. Trust Panya to be all forgiving. “We need your help, Mr. Rawlins,” he said coldly. “We need to know why the American came to the Institute today.”
“His name is Mr. Grant. He’s going to make us famous.”
Sam pulled the window shut from the outside. Their voices would carry into the house and might attract attention. “Let’s go for a walk in the woods, and you can tell us all you know.”
“There are things I want to know.” Denby Rawlins looked closely at Sam. “I want to know where the new words came from. I hope you’re not angry with me any more, young man.”
Sam smothered a strong desire to hit the man between the eyes. “No, I’m not angry. What do you want to know?”
“Mr. Grant found some new words in the computer room.” The Second Partner seemed to be talking to himself. “Those words didn’t come from our computers. I know the program.”
Sam put his arm round Denby Rawlins. The bony shoulder felt repulsive, but it was essential to learn all he could. “What words are you talking about, my friend?”
“Mr. Grant insisted we put them with the handouts for the press. But they don’t belong there. Mr. Grant added them when he helped Dr. Wynne prepare everything.”
“What words?” repeated Sam.
Denby Rawlins stared at the ground. “I found Mr. Grant typing on the keyboard. He said he had discovered some new words. When I told him the program wasn’t working, he was angry. Everyone is angry with me today. I wanted the press to see the computers working.”
“We’re not angry with you,” said Sam. “We really like you.” He turned to Panya. “God knows what he’s on.”
“I want my herbs.”
“Soon,” said Sam. “Have you got a copy of these new words?”
“Oh yes, there’s a copy all right. But you won’t see it until the press conference tomorrow morning.”
Sam gripped the man’s gown. “I need the words, and you need your herbs. Do we have a deal?”
“It’s all in the computer room.” The Second Partner’s voice sounded faint.
“I’m going back in,” said Sam suddenly, putting his fingers under the bottom of the sash.
“That’s where Dr. Wynne is. You’ll get caught,” warned Panya.
Sam shook his head. “No I won’t. This herb junkie is going to make a diversion. Bill, you get out of sight somewhere. And, Panya, take this scarecrow to the front door and start hammering on it and ringing the bell. Make as much noise as possible. Everyone will rush to see what’s going on. Tell them Mr. Rawlins is ill. Which he is. Sick right through his little brain. While you’re explaining everything at the door, I’ll be in through this window and into the computer room.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Bill Tolley. “I’ll come with you.”
“It’s not good, it’s dangerous,” said Panya.
“Will you’ll do it?” asked Sam.
Panya nodded. “It’s best not to think about it too much.” Then she took Denby Rawlins by the arm.
The Red Mountains, South East Egypt
UNDER THE glare of the gas lantern, Colonel Schenkmuller watched impatiently while Mamoud ran his hand over the expanse of black carbon fiber in the old aircraft hanger. From the expression on the Egyptian pilot’s face it was easy to see that the satin smooth surface on top of the wings would feel exactly as it looked: like the skin of a beautiful woman, taut and responsive. But the underside was rough, resembling the dry skin of an old hag. Colonel Schenkmuller had no interest at all in any sort of woman at this moment in his life. Dedication to his paymaster was everything.
“Listen, Mamoud, and listen well. It’s three in the morning, and I didn’t wake you to feed your sexual appetite. No ifs and buts, you son of a bastard camel. I’ve got Endermann on my back. Just assure me this eagle will be ready to fly in eighteen hours time.”
“Everything will be ready, Colonel.”
“It had better be.”
Mamoud grunted before stooping once again to examine the underside of the magnificent construction, tapping it gently, listening with expert ears to the hollow ring reverberating along the length of the fuselage. The uneven texture spoilt an otherwise sleek craft, but the surface was designed to deflect radar signals, not feel beautiful. “What’s happened to friend Ahmed?” he asked.
“Ahmed’s not available.” Schenkmuller opened his brown leather briefcase. “Endermann will be bringing you back up here in the afternoon. He’s arranged a fuel tanker from Râs Banâs to be here to meet you.”
“What do we do now, Colonel?” asked Mamoud, who seemed to have finished giving himself a buzz with the carbon fiber skin.
“We’re going back to Berenice to wait for Endermann. Here’s the advance I talked about.”
Mamoud showed a row of even teeth. "Not talked about, Colonel -- promised. You can trust this son of a bastard camel." He stuffed the thick envelope inside his zip jacket. "Wait until Endermann sees the tug. Her engine is beautiful. First class condition."
“It had better be, Mamoud. The military is jittery. As soon as you unhitch this little load it’s up to you to get the hell out of it.”
Mamoud smiled. “I have friends in Saudi who will welcome me.”
“Don’t contact them in advance. This is a secret operation. And I’m sure your escape will go to plan.” Schenkmuller held the smile long enough to give Mamoud confidence.
“I have been thinking about this job day and night, Colonel. Take-off is two hours after sunset. I climb to five thousand feet, staying amongst these mountains to keep off the radar screens. When I see the moon go orange in the eclipse I release the tow line and dive to sea level.” Mamoud sounded secure. “Within the hour I will be in Saudi.”
“Wave-top altitude all the way there.” Schenkmuller nodded. The poor sod didn’t stand a chance.
“It is good to know you are there with your finger held well clear of the button, Colonel.”
“Sure, Mamoud.” Schenkmuller ran his hand along the wing section. The glistening black carbon fiber skin seemed to tremble under his touch. “By the time our radar picks up this eagle, it will be over the Râs Banâs base, and you’ll be having a few beers with your Saudi friends.”
Mamoud laughed. “And all your SAMs with their heat seeking noses won’t have anything to sniff.”
Schenkmuller felt no pity for the man who was going to be blown into small pieces on completion of his task. Five minutes after releasing the tow rope, explosives in the tug plane would automatically detonate. The descending fireball was guaranteed to divert attention from faint radar echoes of the Eagle of Darkness containing the nuclear warhead. That was the beauty of Endermann’s plan.
“Let’s go, Mamoud. Time to get back to Râs Banâs and wait for further orders.”
Institute of Egyptologists, England
THE THREE men in black coveralls crouched outside the rear of the large house, keeping in the shrubbery.
“God knows what all that disturbance was about at the front door,” said the leader. “But it’s quiet enough now. Get in and get the job done. All the outward signs of an electrical fault, and you start in the computer room.”
The three mercenaries pulled their ski masks over their faces and picked up their bags.
“My task is to destroy their computer backups in the safe,” said the leader. “We meet outside the main gates in five minutes. Do you both know the face of Dr. Wynne, the man we have to eliminate?”
The two subordinates nodded.
“Right,” said the leader tersely. “Go get him.”
SAM HEARD the sound of breaking glass. “If that’s Denby Rawlins, it means he’s escaped again. Where’s Panya?”
“Gresley Wynne took her into the kitchen,” whispered Tolley who had just returned from a quick look round the ground floor. “She’s having a cup of tea. No, here she is now.”
Panya stood in the doorway. “Anyone in?” she called softly.
Sam stood up. “Was that you breaking a window?”
She took hold of Sam’s hand. “It was somewhere round the back. I thought it was one of you two.”
Tolley went to the door. “I’m going to the office to get my recorder and then we’ll find that new prophecy.”
Sam told him to be quick as he settled down with Panya behind the largest cabinet. The computer room was silent apart from the hum from the cooling fans inside the cabinets. Enough light came from the illuminated panels for them to see the room clearly. He pulled Panya close to him as the door from the hallway opened. Two figures stood silhouetted against the faint glow, speaking in hushed, urgent voices. Then came a hiss of spraying liquid.
Suddenly the fumes reached them. Choking fumes, like the pungent liquids used for dry cleaning. Panya stood up, retching.
Sam struggled to bring her down, but panic had given her a strength he was unable to deal with.
As abruptly as they had arrived the men had gone.
“Is there another way out?” Sam asked, holding his sleeve to his face. The fumes made the back of his nose raw, his throat full of the taste of blood.
“There’s a door to the store.” Panya pulled him to the back of the computer room. “I’m going to press the alarm, even if we do get caught.” She reached out, breaking the small glass panel. Instantly a bell rang in the corridor.
Quickly Sam pulled Panya through the door. The fumes had not yet penetrated the store room. “Who are they?” he asked.
“I couldn’t see.” Panya retched violently as she turned on the light. “There’s another door out to the corridor, but it’s usually locked.”
“Switch the light off,” warned Sam. “It might be seen under the door.”
The explosion burst open the door from the computer room, filling the store with orange light and black smoke.
“Panya!” Sam bent over her sprawling figure. The smoke smelt deadly.
Then he saw the way out. He grabbed hold of the handle. Perhaps it wasn’t locked. He tugged, and the door opened. Dense smoke swirled through the passageway. Bill Tolley shouted something from the top of the stairs. It was definitely Bill’s voice.
Sam pulled Panya along the corridor to the back door. If he could get it open, there would be fresh air in the garden.
The door opened easily, letting in a rush of air that fueled the flames further down the corridor. From the darkness Sam heard Dr. Wynne shouting. Other voices joined in. Frantic voices, filled with panic.
Long orange flames lit the long corridor, but the smoke made it impossible to see any detail. Sam pushed Panya out into the cold air and closed the door, staying inside the building.
Someone pushed past him, running out through the door. He stood back as another person came. Further down the corridor he could hear a man shouting, followed by a cat.
Flames now roared through the building. The last person out had left the door open, and the fresh air cleared a path of visibility as far as the main stairway.
And all the time the noise of the fire bell made it difficult to think.
Someone shouted again from inside the house. It sounded like Bill Tolley.
“Come this way,” Sam yelled.
The outside door swung shut as Sam entered, caught by air rushing in to feed the eager flames. The dense black smoke began to build up again in the corridor.
It was an old fire-fighting trick. Sam had been through it all on aircrew training. The air at ground level should be clear of smoke. Lowering himself flat, he pressed his face to the wooden floor and worked his way forward. The darkness was now absolute.
The shouting stopped.
The fire bell continued.
Somewhere ahead was Bill, unconscious but perhaps still alive. Sam reached the stairs, his arms moving out sideways, his fingers hoping to make contact with a human form.
But he could feel only emptiness.
Then he heard a loud knocking. Suddenly the smoke no longer burnt his eyes and his throat. He could feel a blast of fresh air coming from under a door. Someone started banging on it from the inside.
He raised himself and reached up for the handle, but the door was locked. He felt a key and turned it. The door was flung open, knocking him backwards as a man fell onto him and stayed motionless.
He lifted the limp figure onto his shoulder and ran for the exit, not daring to cough or take another breath as a wall of flame tore after him.
Panya was sitting on the path as he emerged from the house. “Sam? Is that you, Sam?”
Sam looked back at the Institute. Flames now leaped from the upstairs windows. Fresh tongues of flame and black smoke followed the sound of breaking glass. The noise from the fire almost drowned the alarm bell. “I’ve rescued Bill Tolley,” he gasped.
“It’s not Bill,” said Panya, shining the flashlight. “You’ve rescued Dr. Wynne.”
Sam watched the yellow circle of light shine on the frail figure in a maroon silk dressing gown.
“I’ll go back and look for Bill Tolley,” Sam shouted, struggling as Panya held him back.
“You’re staying here,” she insisted. “No one could still be alive in there.”
The alarm bell went silent as the blaze consumed the wiring. The sirens of the approaching fire engines drifted above the roar of flames and crackling timber. A window on the top floor opened and a man appeared.
For a moment he stood on the sill, one hand on the central frame, a raised arm holding an ornate red binder.
“I’ve got the whole prophecy,” he shouted.
A blast of fire engulfed Bill Tolley, embers scorching his clothes and hair. One loud scream. It might be pain. Or perhaps rage.
Then he fell outwards.
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“I OWE YOU my life.” Gresley Wynne put his arm around Sam’s shoulder, his grip becoming firmer as he spoke. “The fresh air in the basement would not have lasted much longer.”
Sam looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight. So much had happened in the past three hours. Trapped in the corner of Panya’s small living room and unable to move away, he nodded cautiously. “I did what I could to help.”
The doctor of Egyptology wore his maroon silk dressing gown over a pair of trousers that looked much too long, and the reason might be that they were slipping down from the waist. Sam felt anxious.
“Of course I shall never get over the loss of a dear and personal friend.” The man shook his head slowly, his eyes fixed on Sam. “Denby Rawlins was the founding member with me. The firemen discovered him upstairs in his room, dressed as an Egyptian priest. A death like that is a terrible waste of genius.”
“I’m sorry,” said Panya. “It all seems so unnecessary.”
“Death is not always a dreadful thing, Mrs. Pulaski. As a Christian yourself, I’m sure you know that very well. The Egyptians prepared their dead for a journey into the afterlife. I shall of course do the same for our dear friend.”
Sam recalled seeing a television program showing how the ancient Egyptians prepared the dead by drawing their brains out through the nose, using a long metal hook. The program had made his feel sick, but maybe Dr. Wynne was only speaking about the type of service that would be held. “Mr. Rawlins certainly liked dressing up as an Egyptian priest,” he said.
“Ah yes, a harmless diversion that made our friend feel closer to the civilization we studied.” Gresley Wynne paused. Then, “It is the end of the Institute of course. All the computers were destroyed in the fire.”
“You could buy new ones,” said Sam.
“Unfortunately the programs and backup tapes were also lost. I know nothing about computer programming. No, I can never recover from this tragedy, and of course the devastating news from Frau List. But if the two cylinders are absolutely identical, then we do not have a problem..”
Sam took the opportunity to move to be with Panya. “Dr. Wynne, we got into the Institute to find the prophecy, but we didn’t start the fire.”
“Young man, I respect your honesty. I had already prepared for bed, but I went down for one last look at the computers. Three men started that fire, according to your reporter friend.”
“Bill Tolley? I didn’t realize he was alive,” said Sam in surprise.
“The reporter has been taken to hospital with concussion and critical burns.” Gresley Wynne moved towards Sam again. “Can I confide in you, Mr. Bolt?”
“It depends.” He stayed close to Panya, but felt a certain pity for the doctor.
Gresley Wynne went to the window and pulled back one of the curtains. “Mr. Bolt, dark forces are at work.”
Sam shook his head. “Please don’t bother me with your Egyptian mumbo jumbo. You’re not the only person to suffer in the fire. My car’s burnt out.”
“You misunderstand me, Mr. Bolt. This tragedy is the work of human hands. My labor here has always been of a serious and scientific nature. Isn’t that so, Mrs. Pulaski?”
“So you see, Mr. Bolt, I find it impossible to believe the fire to be anything other than a plot by an outside organization.”
“A rival set-up?”
“I have wondered about that.” Gresley Wynne pulled his maroon dressing gown tighter around his body and looked out into the night. Through the bare trees the remains of the Institute could be clearly seen as a dull red glow. “I cannot imagine how anyone with an interest in the past could show the sort of jealousy that destroys academic achievement.”
“Well, someone did it,” said Sam. “Are those firemen staying all night?”
Gresley Wynne let the curtain drop and turned back to face the room. “I believe so, Mr. Bolt.”
Panya went to pull the curtains closed more tidily. “You can stay here if you like.”
Sam stared. There were only two rooms, and Panya wouldn’t let anyone share with her, which meant… “Is that wise?”
Gresley Wynne smiled. “Very kind of you, Mrs. Pulaski. Yes, I would like that very much. Thanks to Mr. Bolt’s prompt rescue of me from the cellar, the doctor has given me a clean bill of health. I have so much to discuss with you both before we go to bed.”
Sam looked up. He’d have to keep talking all through the night if he was sharing the room with Gresley Wynne. “What do you want to discuss?”
“Mr. Bolt, your friend from the press…”
“Bill Tolley,” said Panya.
“Indeed, yes. Mr. Tolley had a red file in his hand when he fell. We all saw him.”
“The prophecy,” said Sam.
“No, Mr. Bolt, not the prophecy.”
“The police said it was.”
“That was not the prophecy.”
“It was,” said Panya. “I picked it up before the police interviewed us.”
“I read it, Mrs. Pulaski. Do you think I do not know the words of the prophecy by now?” Gresley Wynne sounded agitated. “I have no doubt that Mr. Tolley thought he had the genuine article. Why else would he have brought it to the window?”
“I think you’re confused.” Sam felt as irritated as he probably sounded. Bill Tolley had clearly found something worthwhile in the burning building, and he’d known it.
“Mr. Bolt, let us try to be friends.” Gresley Wynne sounded a little calmer now. “I read words in that binder that were never in Olsen’s revelations. What is the establishment that will tremble from the sky to the abyss? It sounds similar to the prediction for the Cairo mosque, but it is not the same. Andy Olsen would have informed me immediately if he had made further discoveries. And there are other changes. I run a tight ship here.”
“Then it looks as though one of the sailors disobeyed the captain,” said Sam. “You ought to be grateful to Bill Tolley for finding the full version before it got burnt up.”
“But he didn’t save anything, Mr. Bolt. The red binder contains false words. The final page is not the voice of Aten.”
“Just spell it out,” said Sam. “What are you saying?”
“You don’t understand, Mr. Bolt, but I believe that Mrs. Pulaski knows.”
Panya nodded. “Either Bill Tolley was deliberately setting us up with a fake, or someone planted the papers on him for a purpose.”
“Good. You’re a bright woman. Mr. Tolley was your friend. So tell me, was he setting us up, as you put it?”
“Unlikely,” said Panya.
“Then someone wants the false words found.”
“Cairo,” said Panya. “It’s all to do with Cairo.”
“Egypt certainly, Mrs. Pulaski. The power of Aten is at its strongest in Egypt. We are living in fantastic times.”
Sam thought back to the discussions with Bill Tolley. “Suppose there never was a prophecy. Suppose it was all false, right from the word go.” He looked at Gresley Wynne. Perhaps he’d been too blunt with the old turkey. “I’m not trying to blame you.”
Gresley Wynne walked over to the window. “It was a lifetime’s work for me.”
“You’d better sit down,” Panya said, giving Sam a black look.
The elderly man breathed in deeply. “Your pilot friend has a valid point, Mrs. Pulaski. I was suspicious, yes. Very suspicious. But it was like riding on a train out of control once Andy Olsen joined us. The faster it went, the harder it was to jump off.” He stared out into the darkness. “The result is over there, a glowing mass of debris.”
“But it’s not just the house, is it?” said Sam. “Right in the middle of Cairo a mosque was blown up. And Egypt’s on fire too. Nuclear fire. Just like your prophecy said.”
Gresley Wynne shook his head. “You cannot blame me for that.”
“Of course we can’t,” said Panya.
“Hold on,” said Sam, looking at the doctor. “This miserable specimen could have fixed it all, just so he can be proved right.”
Gresley Wynne shook his head. “Do you really think I could organize explosives?”
“Well, someone did it,” Sam shouted. “Someone bloody did it!”
“I’m going to phone Cardinal Fitz.” Panya sounded decisive. “He needs to be warned.”
“Is he in danger?” asked Sam.
Panya picked up the phone. “I think the whole Unity group is in danger.”
“Seems to me the whole world is in danger,” said Sam. “There are madmen out there with nuclear weapons.”
“I CAN PATCH you in to the call, Admiral.” Withington wiped his forehead. “I hope this work is finishing soon. I have to return the kit before anyone misses it.”
Spaxley slipped a pair of headphones over his ears. The man was a nervous rabbit. Endermann or Kramer had something on him, and it must be a powerful lever. “Make sure the recorder’s running.”
The red light on the console flashed, picking up the tones from the dialing code of whoever was making the call.
“It’s an international,” said Withington looking at the long list of digits appearing on the display. “Egypt. Cairo.”
Spaxley held one of the earpieces. “And it’s definitely from the Institute?”
“The woman’s private line in the Lodge. She’s using a long distance phone card. I recognize the code.”
“Quiet,” warned Spaxley as a man answered the ringing tone with the name of a hotel.
“I’m phoning from England,” said a female voice. “I have to speak to Cardinal Fitz urgently.”
The hotel clerk sounded sleepy and obviously annoyed at the lateness of the call. “You phone another time, in the day. It late here in Cairo. The guests all asleep in hotel now.”
“Then ring through to his room and wake him up.” The woman’s insistence came over stronger than the Egyptian’s inertia.
“Very well, I wake him for you.” The emphasis implied that it was the caller’s fault if the Cardinal vented his anger on the night duty clerk.
A drowsy voice came on the line. The woman apologized for the late call.
Spaxley looked at Withington. “Damn her. That’s Panya Pulaski the housekeeper. Can you cut this line?”
“Can you cut them off?”
“It’s not easy. This tap is for listening, not for action. Give me a minute.”
“As fast as you can.”
Withington studied his circuit diagram as the woman spoke.
“Michael, you’ve got to listen to me. The explosion at the al-Sûfiya mosque was meant to kill our group. You mustn’t hold a replacement service tomorrow.”
“My dear Panya, there was no need to wake me to tell me this. We have our enemies, but the good Lord is watching over us all. I intend to honor our commitment to peace and understanding. We are meeting at the church of Saint Sergius in the early evening. God will protect us and guard us.”
“I think he wants me to warn you.”
Cardinal Fitz yawned. “Not at four in the morning.”
“The explosion wasn’t an accident, Michael. When the Hindus destroyed the Ayodhya mosque in northern India in nineteen ninety-two, Muslims retaliated by attacking Hindu temples all over the world. Someone’s trying to start another holy war: Muslims destroying churches, and Christians destroying mosques. And the Jews will be blamed for it all.”
“Panya, my child, do you have evidence?”
“I need to see you, Michael. Please.”
“Perhaps in a day or two…”
“Now. It must be now.”
“Cut it!” yelled Spaxley, and Withington pressed two buttons on the keyboard.
“Michael? Cardinal Fitz?” the woman shouted anxiously, but got no response. She spoke to someone who was with her. The words came through clearly on the headphones. “They’ve cut the line, Sam. They were listening, and they’ve cut the line. I need to get to Cairo and help Cardinal Fitz.”
Spaxley raised a finger. “Get through to Endermann in Râs Banâs. If that woman is serious about going to Cairo, I want him to meet her at the airport.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“YOU’VE GOT to do it.” Sam turned away slowly from the window. His head felt heavy from getting no sleep. “Look, Dr. Wynne, just call the press here and make a simple statement. Tell them there’s a serious problem with the prophecy, and the latest part of it is unreliable. They’ll listen to you.”
Gresley Wynne shook his head. “Young man, you are asking too much of me. Do you seriously expect me to stand before the world and confess to being a charlatan?”
“No I don’t, Dr. Wynne, because you’re not a charlatan.” Panya took hold of the Egyptologist’s hand. The show of compassion made Sam feel drawn to the young woman. She added, “No one’s going to blame you if you tell the truth.”
“International affairs are not a job for me, Mrs. Pulaski. We must call in the authorities.”
“No!” Sam’s shout of panic made Panya jump. “Maybe it’s the authorities who are behind this.” He returned to the window. Rapid blue flashes from the remaining fire engine lit the bare branches of the trees. He turned to Panya. “If Dr. Wynne won’t cooperate, we’ll hold our own press conference. Straight away. Once what we know is public knowledge, we’ll be safe.”
Dr. Wynne looked up at Sam. “Very well, let me make a fool of myself. My reputation can hardly be degraded further by an admission of deception.”
“We might as well get everyone here,” said Sam. “I’ll phone the local hotel. That’s where most of the reporters are staying. They’ll be fast asleep, but I bet I could get them all here within the hour. I’ll go outside and tell anyone who’s hanging around.” He looked at Panya. “Is it okay if we use this room?”
“Use the room,” said Panya, “but not the phone. Someone’s got a tap on it. Have you got a mobile?”
“Not any more. It was in my car outside the Institute. I’ll pop down to the phone box by the main road. I’ve got plenty of change.” He slipped his jacket on. “Cheer up. Dr. Wynne, you always wanted to be famous.”
The elderly Egyptologist began to shake. “I feel…” He sat down heavily. “It is two o’clock in the morning. I would like to rest first.”
“Use my bed,” said Panya.
Sam looked at her quickly. Twenty-four hours ago such an offer would have been unthinkable.
The old man nodded. “I … I need to sleep.”
“In that case, we’ll have the press conference here in an hour,” said Sam. “Have a good sleep. We’ll wake you when we’re ready.”
THE IMITATION wood fire did little more than make a sound of roaring gas. Spaxley yawned, shook his head and spoke on the phone to the leader of Endermann’s mercenaries.
“Just go through it all again.” He glanced at Withington, but the GCHQ man was occupied with his electronic kit, monitoring all calls to the Cardinal’s hotel in Cairo. “I still don’t know why you tried to kill the reporter Tolley.”
“He’d put a tap on the Institute’s phone line.”
“It’s okay, we’ve recovered his recorder, complete with your voice.”
“Thanks,” said Spaxley. At least Endermann wasn’t about to dump him in the brown stuff. “But why did you plant the new prophecy on him?”
“It’s Endermann’s operation, not yours, Admiral.” The man on the phone sounded as though he had little time for retired personnel.
Spaxley sighed. “What the hell was the woman and her pilot friend doing in there? You might have killed them too.”
“We did what we were paid for.”
“With Denby Rawlins?”
“We thought he was Dr. Wynne.”
Spaxley stayed silent. He could see now that giving the revised prophecy to Tolley was a clever move. News-hungry rivals would eagerly devour anything found by an accredited reporter. It was unfortunate that the old professor had been alive to retrieve it when Tolley fell out of the window.
“Are you still there, Admiral?”
“Yes, I’m listening.”
“I’ve left one of my team outside the Institute, to keep an eye on things. He’s just reported signs of activity. The young man from the Lodge is going into the phone box down the road.”
“Tell your man to keep out of sight,” warned Spaxley. “You and your team have done enough damage.” He replaced the phone and turned to Withington. “Get a trace on that public phone box. You’ve already got the number.”
The small speaker in Withington’s console started to ring. The local hotel answered. Sam Bolt asked the desk clerk to wake all the reporters staying there and tell them he was holding a press conference at the Institute Lodge in sixty minutes. Spaxley sensed that Bolt was about to blow the lid off the cookie jar. The cookies in the jar were rotten, and the ex-airline pilot obviously knew it. In just over an hour the world would know it too.
“Go along to Stephan’s room and wake him. I want our ex-KGB man at the Institute before the press briefing ends. He can be there in ninety minutes. Someone has to present the facts. I’ve got a full set of handouts prepared. Olsen’s clay cylinder is in a box in my hotel closet. Stephan can show it to the press. Now let’s move it. Every minute counts.”
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
“WHERE’S Dr. Wynne?” the woman from the Daily Express demanded, for the tenth time.
“Dr. Wynne will be here soon to answer questions,” said Sam. He found the air stifling and hard to breathe. Far more people had jammed themselves into Panya’s living room than he’d expected. “He’s still suffering from shock. He’s here in the bedroom, and he’ll be joining us soon.”
A voice from the back of the room called out. “How would the professor respond to the suggestion that the fire was an easy way out of failure?”
Sam felt his enthusiasm give way to anger. Up to now the session had been going fairly well. He’d managed to maintain control of the briefing, his experience with irate airline passengers proving helpful. “Dr. Wynne had nothing to gain by the fire,” he retorted. “He’s lost his Institute and he’s lost his reputation. Why aren’t you interested in the possibility of the prophecy being manipulated by an outside force? That’s why I got you here.”
“A government agency,” Sam snapped back. “Dr. Wynne thinks the prophecy has been tampered with. He’ll be here soon to tell you himself. It looks like the events in Egypt are being arranged to fit the prophecy. Or perhaps the prophecy is being arranged to fit what’s happening in Egypt. I think we’re all confused.” Sam wished he’d not started to ramble. He needed to sleep.
A roar of laughter carried through the room. Panya pushed her way to the front. “Dr. Wynne will be with you in a few minutes,” she called out, surprisingly loudly for such a slim figure. “Now you must excuse us for a moment.” She took Sam by the arm and lowered her voice. “We have something to discuss.”
“What’s happened?” asked Sam as they stepped out into the freezing garden.
“I’ve got my passport in my room. Have you got yours with you?”
He tapped his jacket pocket. It was still there from his trip to Berlin. “Are we running away?”
“Only to Cairo. We’re going to see Michael Fitz.”
Sam shook his head. “Count me out. I’ve already done enough for your Cardinal.”
“Not yet, you haven’t.”
He refused to let himself get caught up in Panya’s excitement. “If you’re going to Cairo, you’re traveling on your own.” He nodded towards the Lodge. “I’ve got that lot in there to see to.”
“I need your help, Sam.” Again the large, appealing eyes.
“I’ll give you a bit of advice. Someone could be monitoring bookings to Cairo from all the major UK airports, so get a ticket as far as Rome or Naples and book a flight to Egypt when you land.”
“Malta,” said Panya. “And you’re coming with me. And we don’t need to book a flight from there. I know for a fact that Cardinal Fitz has a Vatican jet on standby in Malta for the Unity group.”
“And they’ll let you use it?”
“Leave it to me to arrange. I do have some influence.”
“I can never tell when you’re joking.” He noticed Panya’s hurt looks and realized he’d misjudged her standing in the Unity group. “You’re serious.”
“I don’t need all this drama,” he protested.
“But you’ll help?” Panya’s eyes widened pleadingly.
“Perhaps. I have a friend who works for Air Malta. I’ll phone her on the way to Gatwick airport and see if she can get us tickets.”
“Her? What sort of friend?”
He smiled to himself. Panya Pulaski was jealous. “Wait here. I’m going to tell everyone to help themselves to coffee and tea in your kitchen. They could do with a break.”
“And I’ll make sure Dr. Wynne is getting up. If we’re quick we can leave before anyone realizes we’re missing,”
They returned to the stuffy atmosphere in the Lodge. Sam gave what he thought was a rather confusing statement about things being made clearer soon, and went with Panya to the small kitchen.
“That’s the press taken care of,” he said. “I just hope there’s enough coffee to go round. All we need now is a secure phone. We’ll stop at a service area on the way.”
“Father Patrick,” said Panya suddenly. “I can call at the manse and ring Cairo to let Michael Fitz know what’s happening.”
“We’ll be going past his door. Well, almost. His church is only a few miles from Gatwick. You’ll have to stay in the car.”
“You think I’d let you down?”
“I think Father Patrick would ask too many questions about us being together in the early hours of the morning, me being a young widow.” She smiled briefly at Sam. “But he’ll let me use his phone for a long distance call if I look at him with begging eyes.”
Once again Sam was aware of Panya’s eyes, large and dark, almost as large as the lenses in her slim wire-framed glasses.
“I’ll get us that Papal jet, and that’s a promise.” Panya looked at the press vehicles jamming the drive. “I can’t get my car out from behind this lot. We could take Bill Tolley’s. He’s left it in the road outside, and his keys are on my hall table.” She hesitated. “Or would that be wrong?”
“Bill’s in hospital. I’m sure he won’t mind.” Sam grinned. “I’ll get the keys. You stay here.”
Panya put her arms round him and rested her head on his shoulder. Her body felt warm in the night air. “What we’re doing is important.”
He let Panya rest his head for a little longer before giving her a kiss on the cheek, the first kiss he had given anyone since Sally had run off with the money. It was a strange sensation, especially as it stirred up and identified an attraction deeper than any he had known for many years. “There’s only one thing that’s important to me: getting my children back. Be quick and fetch your passport.”
A car pulled up and a man ran past them into the Lodge without hesitating. Probably a reporter who had only just heard about the press briefing.
The Lodge, Institute of Egyptologists, England
AT THREE in the morning, smoke still drifted across the grounds, smoke heavy with a stench of burning plastic. Stephan looked uneasily at the reporters huddled together in the housekeeper’s living room, drinking coffee.
“Gentlemen, ladies, quiet please.”
He attempted to smile. He’d watched other people deal with the press, but it wasn’t so simple in practice. And he felt exhausted after his fast drive here in the dark.
“The housekeeper and her friend were suffering from shock,” he said loudly, in what he hoped was good English. He needed to be understood without interruption. “They will have told you a lot of ridiculous things. They had inhaled unpleasant fumes in the tragic house fire.” He looked at a man at the back who had now interrupted, demanding to know where they had gone. “They are … well, as you can see, they are not here. Dr. Wynne has asked me to take over this briefing, and perhaps undo some of the chaos that was inadvertently caused by people who know nothing about the Institute.”
“I thought the professor was on his way.”
Stephan looked at the man at the back of the room, his heart suddenly racing. Yes, where the hell was Dr. Wynne?
“Can we print any of this?” The questioner changed the subject conveniently.
“You can print it word for word.” Stephan raised a hand. “No more interruptions, please. I’ll start at the beginning, and you can forget everything you have heard so far. I have a most interesting object here.” He reached into a box under the table and raised the clay cylinder amid a volley of electronic flash. “This is where these events started.”
He paused to look around the room before continuing. He knew most of the details, but to be on the safe side he referred to Spaxley’s notes. “The German ambassador in Cairo came across this cylinder in nineteen forty, and was intrigued by the Egyptian text. He described it as prophetic, and gave it to Adolf Hitler. Taken at face value it says…” He looked quickly at the notes again. “It says that the Man of Power in the West will come to rule the nations of the world. The Nations of the North, the East and the South will bow down before him.”
“It could be a fake.”
“Not so. It was authenticated by the Berlin Museum. I have the certificate of authentication right here. Hitler had so much faith in the prophetic wording on it that he started his North Africa campaign early. Now you may all be wondering why I have drawn your attention to this cylinder. You see, the Institute has been involved in advanced code breaking. Documents you will be issued to you before you leave, showing how this has been done.”
“Can we see all the workings?” asked a science correspondent.
Stephan raised a hand. “No interruptions, please. Important events are unfolding in the Middle Fast. Egypt is in turmoil while we speak. The Institute believes that the nuclear explosion was foretold. I have the full prophecy in this binder.”
Gresley Wynne suddenly appeared at the door. Where on earth had he come from? “That’s not…”
No one else in the room seemed to notice the bleary-eyed Egyptologist starting to protest. They were all fascinated by the clay cylinder. Dr. Wynne stood for a moment, his mouth open, then he turned to go.
“It seems that Hitler got it wrong,” Stephan continued, unwilling to leave the platform. “The Institute believes that the title ‘Man of Power in the West’ is the wording needed to crack the code, and has no meaning as such.”
“Where are the couple who started this briefing, before you got here?”
Stephan sighed. They were back to that again. He needed to move on. “As I said when I got here, you must totally forget what you heard earlier, gentlemen, ladies. The woman who spoke is nothing more than the housekeeper at the Institute, and the man with her is her lover. They had no authority to speak at this briefing, because they know nothing about the prophecy. What I am telling you now is the truth.”
That caused a moment of silence. Hopefully that was a good sign.
“What about the eagle?”
“A missile, gentlemen. Yes, that is definitely one of the latest predictions.” Where the hell had Gresley Wynne gone? That man could cause serious damage to the prophecy if he reappeared at the wrong moment.
“Like Iraqi Scuds?”
“Iraqi, Iranian, Libyan. Most likely Israeli.” He waited until he was sure that the reporters had taken it in. “But the Institute of Egyptologists is not in business to make political statements. What is going to happen, is going to happen. That is how the Institute looks at the prophecy.”
“Another nuclear explosion?” someone else asked, ignoring the directive not to interrupt.
“The Institute doesn’t rule out another nuclear blast.” Stephan realized the interruption had played into his hands. “We all know what happened south of Cairo. The arrival of the Eagle of Darkness is prophesied, followed by a time of chaos.”
“You are serious I suppose?” The young reporter probably wanted his hopes confirmed. This was likely to be the first real war he’d cover on a professional basis.
“See it and believe: that’s what we say at the Institute. The Institute of Egyptologists can only publish what it discovers. You must judge how well we have done our work when the time comes.”
“You say our work. Are you on the Institute staff?”
He was prepared for that one. “I am here to speak on behalf of Dr. Wynne.”
“Can Dr. Wynne do any more work, now the place has burnt down?”
“The computers and their programs are beyond repair. This red binder contains the last printout that was ever made of the prophecy. It is fuller than the one we issued you with earlier.” He stopped, expecting another interruption from Gresley Wynne, but the man had not returned. “I’m going to hand out copies now. I have sufficient for all of you.”
It was with relief that Stephan realized that the crowd in the room were swallowing the lie, just as the German Führer had done in 1940. The cylinder contained a powerful message for the gullible. He looked around the room at the responsive faces.
As soon as he’d handed out the papers he had to find Dr. Gresley Wynne.
PANYA CAME out of Father Patrick’s manse after forty-five minutes, just as it was getting light. Sam was starting to feel sleepy. He’d done his share of the work from a phone in the street outside. Paula was not on duty at Air Malta this early, but he had managed to get two seats on a charter plane to Malta that was leaving in … he looked at his watch … less than two hours. They’d have to get a move on if they were to catch it.
From the expression on Panya’s face he found it impossible to judge if she had been successful or not. “Well?”
“It’s sort of good news.” she said, shutting the car door and putting on her seatbelt.
“The Vatican plane is a Dornier three-two-eight. Do you know what that is?”
“I did a bit of charter work with one two years ago. It’s an executive jet.”
“The plane is still in Malta. But…”
“The pilot says he won’t fly to Cairo. He’s worried about being target practice for the Egyptian air force.”
“That’s it then. There’s not much point in going to Gatwick.”
“Now comes the good. It’s okay for you to fly it.”
He laughed out loud. “How could I fly it?”
“You’ve just said you’ve flown one before. You have a pilot’s license.”
“Well, yes, but it’s not as simple…”
“Have you got your license with you or not?”
He felt for his wallet. “Yes.”
“Is it up to date?”
“Of course it is. I’m hoping to get another flying job soon. But this isn’t what we agreed.”
Panya sighed. “Just stop moaning, Sam. It’s exactly what we agreed. I promised I’d find a jet, and that’s what I’ve done. I didn’t say anything about getting a pilot.”
COLONEL BEN ABADI of the Egyptian Army noticed with relief that the wind was coming off the sea, from the north east. The longer it stayed in that direction, the less chance there was of Cairo receiving airborne radioactive fallout from Beni Mazar. The scientists in the government had been assuring everyone that it only needed a day or two more before the worst of it was dispersed. What the Libyans would think about it was a different matter, but at least Lower Egypt would be safe.
Abadi knew that this, of course, was nonsense. Radioactive water was now slowly and inexorably making its way down the Nile. The experts assured the citizens it would take several days to reach Cairo, and was unlikely to present any great threat if people kept clear of the river. Abadi’s driver clearly didn’t trust the experts. In his anxiety to be in and out of the area quickly, he had arrived here early; a feat previously only dreamt of by senior officers in Commando Command. Ben Abadi went into his temporary office inside the perimeter fence at Cairo International Airport. The private jet from Malta should be here in a little over two hours.
A dusty copy of yesterday’s al-Jomhuriya lay on the table. He shook it and studied the headlines again. America seemed to be saying one thing but meaning another. Questions in Congress, and evasive answers by the defense chiefs. Could the West be relied on if Israel launched an invasion, as it had in ’67?
Abadi threw the paper down. No one knew who had detonated a nuclear warhead two hundred kilometers south of Cairo. The Western papers regurgitated rumors of supposed nuclear factories in Egypt, but he would know if they really existed. The Egyptian government couldn’t keep such an outrageous conspiracy from the armed forces. The Arab papers blamed Israel, and that seemed a more likely hypothesis.
He looked out of the window of the single story building, using the back of his sleeve to wipe the dust and fly-blows from the glass. He was neither renowned for his smartness of dress nor for his good manners. But he was efficient. Some said ruthless. He stared across the vast expanse of empty concrete shimmering under the sun.
Yes, he could he ruthless. It was the only way to succeed. He picked up the phone. Time to make preparations to receive the Vatican jet.
“YOU STILL don’t look like an airline pilot.” said Panya from the copilot’s seat.
“You think I look too young?”
“Now you’ve said it, yes. I thought airline pilots were much older.”
“What do you want, someone who’s senile and doddery at the controls?”
“I was hoping you’d at least dress the part for me.” Suddenly Panya caught hold of his arm. “We are going slide out of the sky,” she gasped.
“It’s called banking,” Sam explained patiently. “You never see it like this if you’re a passenger.”
“But we are at such an angle. We will slide sideways.”
He shook his head. “It’s like riding a bike. You have to lean for the corners.”
“So we will not slide into the ground?”
“ Haven't you seen just the sky out of one window, and only the ground out of the opposite one? It's the only way to turn a plane. Trust me -- and please don't touch anything."
He waited until the small fields and red church domes of Malta disappeared below the cockpit, then allowed the Dornier jet to level itself as they came clear of the island. The controls felt light and responsive, and the cockpit still smelt new. A luxury jet like this could almost fly itself. “And you don’t look much like an air hostess,” he retorted. “But you can pour me a coffee from the flask back there as soon as we’ve left Maltese airspace.”
“You’ll have to wait until I’ve got my air legs, or whatever aircrew need.”
He steadied the plane as they hit a pocket of warm air rising from the sea. “It will get smoother when we’ve finished climbing.”
“Are we going straight to Egypt?”
“More or less. I’m making for Crete, then turning south to Cairo. I had to file a flight plan, but I’m uneasy about it. Too many people know where we’re heading.”
“Vatican Five, this is Malta Control. Climb to flight level twenty and report level.”
Sam flicked on his mike. “Understood, Malta Control.”
“What was that about?” asked Panya, leaning forward as far as her seat harness would allow. Ooh, look down there. I can see the Dingli Cliffs.”
“I have to climb to twenty thousand feet and let them know when I’m there.” He turned to look down at the massive rock face rising vertically out of the deep blue Mediterranean, a small line of white marking where large waves broke against the base. “I’ve never managed to get here on a routine flight. You know Malta well?”
“I’ve been here a couple of times for work.” Panya laughed. “Being stuck at the Institute has made rather a depressing change from world travel.”
“I keep telling you, Panya, I never know when you’re joking with me”
She smiled. “I have the same trouble with you.”
He cut back on the throttles and leveled out at five thousand feet. Climbing to twenty-thousand wasn’t such a good idea. He spoke again into the microphone on his headset. “Malta Radar, this is Vatican Five. Am descending to low level.”
“Vatican Five, this is Malta Radar. Be advised we are unable to give radar cover below two thousand feet”
“Understood, Malta Radar. Permission to proceed.”
“Proceed, Vatican Five. Be advised you are entering an area of intense military activity. Numerous contacts in that area, height and type unknown. “
Sam consulted his navigation aids and pushed the yolk forward. The Dornier jet went into a steep dive.
“What are you doing?” asked Panya in a panic.
Sam watched the altimeter drop rapidly until it read one thousand feet. He leveled out at one hundred, then pushed the yolk forward again until he could no longer trust the altimeter. He judged his height now to be less than thirty feet. The crew of a small, brightly colored fishing boat stared up, hands shielding their eyes from the sun.
“Any lower and we’ll be caught in their nets,” shouted Panya. “Why are we skimming the waves?”
Sam checked the instruments before replying. “It’s a security measure.”
“There’s a problem?”
“I’m like the regular pilot of this plane. I don’t fancy being shot down.”
“Cardinal Fitz knows we’re coming.”
“Cardinal Fitz isn’t the man sitting behind a missile launcher.”
“No one’s going to shoot at us.” Panya sounded only slightly worried. “They’re expecting us.”
Sam nodded. “You’re right. I’ve had to clear this flight through the military, so they know we’re coming. Not even a bluebottle can get into Egypt without permission.”
“Then why are we flying so low?”
“I’ll tell you why. The Americans have an aircraft carrier on her way into the Med. The USS Constellation, and she’s loaded with Tomcats and Hornets. They track us, the AWACs track us, and for all I know that fishing boat is tracking us. Our transponder is transmitting a signal that we’re a civilian aircraft, but I’d rather he lost to radar signals by flying among the waves.”
“Is it safer?” asked Panya, and this time there was definite anxiety in the question.
Sam shrugged. “This wouldn’t be the first civilian plane to be on the receiving end of an unfortunate mistake. I like being close to the water. I don’t suppose it’s safer, but it’s less distance to fall.”
He glanced at Panya. She was half smiling, probably unsure if he was teasing her. She seemed to relax. He wished he felt as cool as she looked. For the rest of the journey he’d be staring out of the cockpit, watching for a bright spot of light getting rapidly closer. Rocket exhaust should be easy to see, even at a low level. Not that he could do much about it. The Dornier wasn’t built for violent evasive action.
“I need to report on our position with Egyptian ground control.” He checked the radio, then added, “As if they don’t know exactly where we are anyway.”
BEN ABADI picked up the phone again. The voice said, “Vatican jet from Malta arriving in ten minutes, Colonel.”
He moved to the clean patch of window as though the plane might be in sight, stretching the telephone cord to its limit. “Get me some transport. I’m picking them up at the aircraft steps. And I want two armed guards to accompany me. Is the airport security in place?”
“Everything you asked for, Colonel. The arrival lounge is already sealed. A Jeep is on its way to you.”
Force 777 could have filled the airport with troops by now, but it was essential the top brass remained ignorant of this arrival. So here he was, a Commando Command colonel with two armed guards facing an unknown threat. He had to be ready for the two visitors from England. Ben Abadi brushed his uniform down, wishing he’d sent it to the cleaners yesterday.
“Your Jeep, Colonel.”
Two soldiers, their Egyptian AKMs at their sides, formed an armed escort. They saluted smartly, but these trained men were not here for decoration.
“Area Twenty-six,” Ben Abadi told the driver, as the soldiers slipped into the back seat of the Jeep. He felt for his handgun. It would be easy to reach this 9mm Beretta in an emergency.
“Just keep close to me,” he ordered the soldiers. “Are those AKMs loaded?”
The men showed him full magazines.
The driver turned. “Plane from Malta taxiing this way, sir. You want me to drive onto the apron to meet them?”
Abadi looked around. This was a damn conspicuous place for what he had in mind. Long range lenses at the terminal building would give a good picture. So would binoculars. Or a telescopic sight. “Get me the control tower, driver. I want the plane to park behind the freight terminal.”
“VATICAN FIVE, this is Cairo Control. Follow the marshal’s truck to the rear apron, then follow the marshal’s instructions. “
Sam turned to Panya, surprised by the lack of planes at the massive international airport. “We’ve been ordered away from the passenger terminal. I don’t like it.”
“You worry too much,” she said. “Cardinal Fitz is the sort of man who leaves nothing to chance.”
Sam was not totally convinced. “Then let’s hope he’s waiting at the bottom of the aircraft steps.”
“Vatican Five, you are to stay on board your aircraft until the arrival of a military vehicle. Colonel Abadi wishes to ensure your safety.”
Sam acknowledged the instructions from the control tower as he followed the small truck, swinging through a sharp right angle. Quickly he applied the brakes as a Jeep in military camouflage stopped in front of the Dornier. The plane lurched to a halt, the nose dipping for a moment. He killed the engines and turned to Panya. “I assume this is the military vehicle that we nearly ran over. Let’s get out and see what happens.”
He pushed the exit door outwards and down, to be met with a blast of warm air from the tarmac.
“Mr. Bolt? Mrs. Pulaski?” At the bottom of the steps stood a tall Egyptian in fawn military uniform. By his side two soldiers held their ARMs in a position of readiness.
This was not a guard of honor; these men were prepared for action. Sam put a hand on Panya’s shoulder. “I think we’re in trouble.”
“OLSEN’S CYLINDER worked a miracle, Admiral.” Stephan sounded pleased with his performance at the Institute Lodge. He finished his late lunch back in Cheltenham, pushing his plate away to make room for some newspapers. “You were right. When I told them Hitler had been given that cylinder in the war, it sealed the prophecy. All that crap about sending Rommel into North Africa. Those hard-nosed reporters were putty.”
Spaxley sat in an easy chair close to the fire. The controls for the gas made the room either too hot or too cold. Mostly too cold. It took him back to the first night here, with Endermann, Ahmed, Stephan and Withington at the table. But Ahmed wasn’t around any more. His blood was soaking into a large pile of Islamic masonry in Cairo.
“You did fine, Stephan. It’s a pity Dr. Wynne got away. Everyone’s asking to see him, but it seems he’s disappeared. Probably a good thing. He’s too confused to be allowed near the reporters.”
Spaxley looked around the room. “He had a call from GCHQ up the road. Something about being needed to sort out some paperwork. I thought he’d be back by now. These young people can’t take the pressure.”
Stephan smiled. “Remember the Six-Day War? The world held its breath then.”
Spaxley took out a cigar and prepared to light it. “We both had good jobs once. On opposite sides, sure, but we were respected for what we did.”
“So what happens now?” asked Stephan.
“My guess is the U.S. President will be forced to make a statement as soon as the Eagle’s flight has ended.
“I know his military advisers. They’re not all doves. There’s going to be one hell of a mess out there in the Middle East. The response from the Arab countries will be immediate.”
“With the Fifth Fleet on full steam for the North African coast.”
Spaxley grinned as he lit his cigar with a match. “One hell of a load of firepower. I here’s a lot of panic around. God, I enjoy the challenge. Especially when I’m in the driving seat.”
“I thought Endermann…”
“Endermann’s out in Egypt, making sure the Eagle gets airborne in time for the lunar eclipse tonight.”
Stephan joined him by the fire, taking out a pack of cheap Russian cigarettes. “I could do with a coffee.”
“They’ll be here soon to clear the table. This English weather needs something to keep the rain out of a man’s body. I’ll have brandy in mine. Ah, here’s the waiter now.”
The tall man in a white jacket walked slowly and deliberately to the fireplace.
Spaxley hardly looked up. “Two coffees, waiter. And a small brandy.”
The man bowed before slowly removing the white napkin from his arm. Under it he held a slim Smith and Wesson with a heavy caliber barrel. “I’m afraid it will not be possible for Mr. Withington to join us to make the party complete. He is currently on his way to the morgue. He met with an extremely nasty accident on the road outside GCHQ. This way please, gentlemen.”
“THE TWO OF YOU had better be telling this nice man from the Egyptian army all you know.” Cardinal Fitz winked at Panya. “Hasn’t it already cost the Holy Father an arm and a leg in aviation fuel to get you both here so quickly from Malta, not to mention the wear and tear on that marvelous aeroplane of his?”
Sam eyed the man in the clerical black suit, checking him from head to toe for just one hint of Irish green. This over-sized leprechaun was Panya’s Cardinal, as high as it was possible to go in the Catholic Church without becoming pope. “It was my Visa card that got us on the charter flight from Gatwick to Malta,” he pointed out.
“And to be sure it was,” said the Cardinal. “Well now, somebody had to pay the airline in England. Are you thinking the Holy Father is made of money?”
“You’ll get it back,” whispered Panya.
“He’ll be getting his reward in heaven,” said the Cardinal, “and not a minute before. Now, what’s this about a plot to blow us all to kingdom come?”
Sam noticed the Colonel showing signs of impatience. He felt his sympathies leaning towards the military man. This was no time for pleasantries. “The Unity group mustn’t meet in the church tonight,” Sam said. “There’s a bomb under it.”
“Nonsense!” Colonel Ben Abadi snorted and shook his head. “Since the destruction of the al-Sûfiya mosque we’ve searched the foundations and sewers of every religious building in Cairo. We even searched the synagogue.”
“Sam overheard them discussing explosives,” Panya insisted. “I tried to phone Cardinal Fitz last night to warn him, but I think someone was listening on the line and cut us off. That’s why we’ve come over.”
Sam wasn’t going to be left out. “The latest prophecy says the establishment will tremble from the sky to the abyss. That sounds like Aten-speak for another religious building being blown up.”
“Perhaps.” said Colonel Abaci, not sounding convinced.
“They blew the mosque,” Sam reminded him. “They’re experts.”
“And we are experts too, Mr. Bolt.”
Sam noticed the danger signs in the Egyptian’s eyes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, before this gets too heated, why don’t we all have a nice cup of tea? And I can pass on some excellent news.” Cardinal Fitz smiled encouragingly. “I always think a cup of tea in the afternoon is a splendid way to calm frayed nerves.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” agreed Panya.
Sam looked at her. Panya was probably more interested in getting people into church than in sorting out the trouble threatening the Middle East. Here he was standing by the side of the military authority, while Panya had positioned herself, perhaps unconsciously, by the side of the religious leader. And that really summed up the present as well as the past. Panya had been a good companion, perhaps even a friend, but they were poles apart.
“The good news is for you, Mr. Bolt,” said Cardinal Fitz. “Your partner has turned up safe and well, and maybe you’ll soon be getting your two little children back.”
Sam felt his breath catch in his throat. “Are you serious?”
“Now, would I be telling lies?” Cardinal Fitz sounded offended. Then he winked. “It’s as true as I’m standing here. But that woman of yours, she says she’s not wanting to see you again. She’s with her fancy man. A financial advisor from the lottery, so I believe.”
“I don’t care about Sally,” said Sam. “But you’re serious about getting Karen and Tom back?” He still wondered whether to believe the Cardinal, although the bit about the financial advisor seemed possible. Maybe it was a trick to ensure more help.
“It’s true enough, Mr. Bolt, and I think I can assist you in sorting everything out with the authorities. When you get back to England.”
Sam felt surprised by this gratuitous help. “I don’t understand.”
“Don’t understand what, Mr. Bolt?”
“Why you’re doing this.”
The Cardinal raised a finger. “There are youngsters who run away from home, leaving their parents to go mad with the worry. All it takes is a quick phone call. But some of them don’t do it. They want their parents to suffer.” He put a large hand on Sam’s shoulder. “Your partner wanted you to suffer, Mr. Bolt. She knew you were under suspicion of murder, and could so easily have made her well-being known to the authorities. The woman is vindictive. I think she will now fight to stop you getting your little children back, even though she doesn’t want them and has kept them in care.”
“I think maybe you’re right,” agreed Sam.
“Then you’ll be needing my help,” said the Cardinal.
Panya looked at Fitz. “Did you use the Vatican bank to trace her?”
“The financial institutions were reluctant to help trace the money,” he said. “But I twisted a few arms, seeing as there was a malicious woman involved.”
Abadi glared. “Can we discuss this later?” he asked.
“Do you think you could be after getting the tea?” countered the Cardinal.
Colonel Ben Abadi raised his eyebrows and looked sorrowfully at Sam. The expression gave Sam a feeling of affinity with this man from the Egyptian Commandos. Colonel Ben Abadi was a soldier dedicated to his work, not a nine-to-five administrator glued to a desk.
“I think Mr. Bolt would rather we proceeded with the work in hand,” said Abadi briskly. “In the meantime I will arrange for tea to be brought over from the airport lounge.”
“Now that’s ever so civil of you,” remarked Cardinal Fitz as Abadi went to the phone.
Panya moved to Sam’s side. “I’m so happy for you about the children.”
“If it’s true,” said Sam, thinking that he’d be even happier when he could actually see Karen and Tom. Panya smiled at him, and he wondered if she was pleased to hear that Sally wasn’t coming back. The small room had gone silent. Sam realized just how feminine Panya’s body looked in the dress. Like the little girl next door who had suddenly grown up, he’d not noticed her properly until now. If he wasn’t careful he’d start to fancy her. But Panya was now watching the Colonel as he replaced the phone.
“What you will hear today is higher than top secret, and I have to trust you.” Abadi made eye contact with everyone in turn. “I don’t have the power to demand you sign a state secrets paper, but I have ways of ensuring prolonged incarceration for those who betray my country, irrespective of their nationality. Do I make myself clear?”
Sam recognized the man for a real bastard, but a man who could both trust and be trusted. Threats were his way of achieving results.
“You all agree?”
“Then I will be blunt. Egypt has an enemy.”
“Egypt has always had enemies,” said the Cardinal quietly.
Abadi heard him. “This enemy is different. Many of our people say it is Israel, and some of our Arab neighbors are only too eager to repeat the rumor.”
Cardinal Fitz shifted impatiently from one foot to the other. “And to be sure, you’re well aware of the prophecy from the Institute of Egyptologists.”
“Thanks to you, Cardinal, I am well aware of it. Please sit down. Your tea will be here shortly.”
Sam wasn’t going to let Abadi be so dismissive. “Panya and I have been investigating the Institute.”
“Wonderful.” The Colonel’s voice was loaded with sarcasm. “Let me hear your findings.”
“For a start,” said Sam, “we think that … that is, Panya and I think…”
Colonel Abadi stared at him. “Go on.”
“If a foreign power is behind the prophecy, then if they say the Eagle of Darkness will fly tonight, it will, because they’ll be making it happen.”
“And what do you say, man of God? You religious leaders are supposed to understand prophecy.”
The Cardinal was looking out of the window for signs of the tea. “I suppose it can be classed as prophecy if the person doing the foretelling is also controlling the future. I am thinking now of the good Lord.”
“Where did the nuclear missile come from that decimated Beni Mazar?” Sam asked.
“The Mukhabarat would dearly love to know the answer to that one,” said Abadi. “You have heard of our Mukhabarat? They are the Egyptian equivalent of your Special Intelligence Service, or the American CIA. Understand this, Mr. Bolt, I cannot trust even the most senior staff of the Mukhabarat. The true reason for your presence in Egypt is unknown to everyone. The authorities think you are here as part of the Unity group, to join the religious service.”
“I’m impressed,” said Sam.
“I’m putting my reputation on the line, as you English say. I will come out of this covered in glory or…,” he glanced at Panya, “let’s say dung.”
“Then you’re after being a man of peace like myself,” said Cardinal Fitz, still at the window.
“I love Egypt, and I love peace,” said Abadi. “But I am prepared to use violence to achieve peace. What do you say to that, holy man?”
“I understand your feelings.”
Sam felt surprised, but said nothing.
“I don’t approve of guns, but we all have battles to fight,” the Cardinal added.
“Then we see eye to eye,” said Abadi. “The enemy we are fighting would seem to be an enemy on the inside.”
“Colonel Abadi,” Sam said, “the next nuclear device is called the Eagle of Darkness.”
“I have heard something about it from the newspapers. But no one has details. Why do you say it’s nuclear?”
“It’s being launched tonight from Râs Banâs, near Berenice.” That seemed to get the Colonel’s attention. Then he added, “I thought Râs Banâs was closed.”
Abadi didn’t smile. “Since Afghanistan, the base is packed with Egyptian and American military forces preparing to defend the Middle East from terrorist attacks. Needless to say, this is top secret. But I can assure you we are not planning to launch any nuclear missiles from Râs Banâs tonight.”
“Whatever it is, it sounds as though it’s coming from the air,” said Sam. “I overheard a conversation in England between a White House press man and someone called Endermann. Endermann was on his way to Berenice.”
Colonel Abadi banged his fist on the dusty desk, making everyone stand back in alarm. “Endermann? In the name of Allah why did you not tell me this before? We picked up one of his armed men at airport arrivals this afternoon, but so far he has told us nothing. Endermann in Berenice?” The Colonel pointed to the large map on the wall visitors. “This is Berenice.” He tapped the bottom right hand corner, close to the border with Sudan. “We have missiles down there at Râs Banâs. For defense. But nothing nuclear.” He paused. “And you’d better believe it.”
“Then you’ll go there and arrest Endermann?” Panya asked.
“ Mrs. Pulaski, my government believes Israel is planning to eliminate Egypt, as they tried in sixty-seven in the Six Days War. There will soon be a large build-up of American forces in the eastern Mediterranean -- but whose side are they on?"
“And whose side is Egypt on?” asked Sam.
“For all I know, my government has sold out to the West. A colonel can be eliminated with just a word. If I arrest Endermann I risk starting the Armageddon you Christians talk about. So what is the Eagle of Darkness?”
“Some sort of airborne missile,” suggested Sam. “Maybe like the one that blew up at Beni Mazar.”
“Mr. Bolt, the nuclear explosion at Beni Mazar was not airborne. Our anti-missile defense screens would have detected it. If it was an eagle, it was an eagle that walked there from its nest. Perhaps Egypt will have to wait for this Eagle of Darkness to fly before we can take action. That is when the world will discover the name of the aggressor.”
“And risk another nuclear blast?” Sam asked.
“Preserving peace is never easy, Mr. Bolt.” Abadi stopped, deep in thought, then clapped his hands loudly as though inspiration had arrived. “Sometimes it is necessary for a person to take risks that are considered acceptable. That is how military strategists have operated for thousands of years. Risk assessment, we call it today.”
“So?” Sam wanted assurance that something positive was being done.
Abadi ignored him. “Cardinal Fitz, you must know all the hiding places in a church. I want you to go with my men while they search the church of Saint Sergius once more. Mrs. Pulaski, you will go with the Cardinal, although you are not to put yourself in danger.”
Panya’s eyes flared. “Where I come from, women do the same work as men.”
Colonel Abadi’s mind was clearly on his strategy, not on the politics of sexual equality. “Mr. Bolt, I want you to be my pilot.”
“You have a plane?” asked Sam.
“You have the plane, Mr. Bolt. I want you to arrange for it to be refueled.”
“It’s not my plane, and I don’t have any money for fuel,” protested Sam.
“Mr. Bolt,” said Abadi, “you forget I am in charge here. All I want you to do is allow the military to refuel the Dornier.”
“And where are we going?”
“I will tell you when we are airborne.”
“I’ll need to file a flight plan.”
“No, Mr. Bolt, I will file the flight plan.”
A knock at the door and a steward appeared with a flask and some white cups and saucers.
Cardinal Fitz perked up immediately and put his mouth close to Sam’s ear. “I don’t suppose you’ve got anything stronger in your luggage?” he whispered. “I’m after being in need of a drop of whiskey to put in my coffee. All this talking has put the fear of God into me.”
THE VATICAN Dornier climbed rapidly, leaving the terminal buildings and runways far below. Abadi had filed a military flight plan for Aswan, down in the south. He told Sam there was no need to contact air traffic control again, as they would be tracking him all the way. Sam felt uneasy. The Colonel was up to something.
Sam watched the streets and high-rise apartment blocks of Cairo flash past below the cockpit windows. “I gather most commercial flights have stopped,” he said, checking that the indicator lights showed the wheels were securely latched.
“It seems that no one wants to come to my country for pleasure, or for business at the moment.”
“I can’t blame them, with the nuclear threat.”
“Then you are a brave man coming here to risk your life.”
“I got talked into it,” said Sam.
The Colonel pointed down. “See the Nile? It is the lifeblood of my country, but soon contaminated water from Beni Mazar will make its way here, before polluting the sea.”
Sam looked around. A row of black barges made their way towards Cairo, their wake clearly visible in the pale green waters of the river that had allowed an ancient civilization to grow up along its fertile plain “I didn’t realize it was so wide.”
Abadi pointed to the west. “The Pyramids of Dahshur. The Sphinx and the Pyramids of Giza are behind us now. It is a shame you cannot visit us as a tourist, but so much of the Nile territory is being urgently evacuated due to the secondary fallout.”
Sam had more on his mind than a few pyramids. He kept hearing Cardinal Fitz telling him about Sally. At least the Cardinal seemed interested in helping sort out the inevitable mess. Maybe Panya could visit him and stay for a few days when Karen and Tom were allowed home. They would probably welcome a woman’s support as they settled in. He certainly would.
“See across there, the remains of another pyramid.” Abadi seemed to be playing a game. “The Pyramid of Maidum. Such remains are everywhere on the route to Aswan.” He sat back and sighed in resignation. He pointed towards the sand that marked the start of the Western Desert, a thousand miles of sand and rock leading to the Libyan border. “We have to keep clear of there, and pass Beni Mazar well to the east as we fly south. I think it will be time to turn east soon.”
Sam felt concerned that air traffic control would not be expecting a sudden change of direction. On the other hand they would hardly be expecting him to fly over an area of high radiation. He reached forward for the transmit button, just to check up. Abadi knocked his hand away.
“I’ve already told you: don’t use the radio,” he snapped.
“Mr. Bolt, this plane is now under military command. My military command.” The Colonel unfolded a map. “Over there you can see a large oasis. Go to the left of that and then continue south.”
“If you’re sure,” said Sam, anxious to use the radio for confirmation of their destination.
Abadi pulled a small radio from his pocket and answered it. He turned to Sam. “You must excuse me. Continue south with the Nile on our right, until I tell you otherwise.” He undid his seat harness and made his way into the passenger cabin. “And don’t use the radio,” he called out.
Six minutes later the Colonel returned with his map. “Switch off your transponder,” he ordered.
“Are you crazy?” asked Sam.
“Switch it off. Get down to ground level as soon as you can, keeping on this course, then turn due east immediately.” He flashed a smile, but it failed to reassure Sam.
Sam shook his head. “I flew low coming in from Malta, but I was over water, not sand dunes and rocks. It’s too dangerous down there.”
“Flying is becoming dangerous nowadays.” The Colonel clipped on his safety harness.
“Give me a good reason why I should do what you say,” said Sam.
“Anyone flying around the skies will stick out … what do you English say … like a sore thumb? Air traffic controllers have more time to watch aircraft movements since the explosion at Beni Mazar. As far as they are concerned we could be a hostile aircraft.”
“Then let me keep the transponder on. Then we’ll know who we are.”
Abadi shook his head. “I do not wish anyone to know we are on our way.”
“Your air force will shoot us down when they detect us on their radar,” protested Sam.
“Quite possibly, Mr. Bolt. So let’s agree that you switch off the transponder and fly east, extremely low, below ground radar cover. Okay?”
Put like that he had to agree.
Sam dropped the Dornier almost to the desert, then sharp east, having to steer sharply to starboard and then port to miss a clump of palm trees on a slight rise. Abadi needed a skilled fighter pilot, not a civil airline driver for this job. The last time he’d flown as low and fast as this over land he’d been in a single engined Piper on flight training, too terrified to reduce the airspeed and drop the final few inches to make contact with the runway, resulting in another circuit of the airfield. “I ought to radio Aswan to tell them our new heading.”
“Did I say we are going to Aswan?”
“It’s what you filed in the flight plan.”
“Flight plans are only for the inquisitive, Mr. Bolt. I also filed three Vatican staff as passengers on a sightseeing trip.”
Sam turned round quickly, just in case he’d been dreaming. The passenger compartment was empty. He put his headset on, ready to contact Aswan control tower.
“Mr. Bolt, you will take your headset off and do not attempt to use the radio again.”
“I’ve told you, I have to…” he started to protest.
Abadi ripped Sam’s communications plug from the instrument panel. “We are going to Râs Banâs, but I have no wish for anyone there to anticipate our arrival.” The Colonel glanced at his watch. “It is nearly sixteen hundred hours now. We must get there before dark.”
Sam let the plane gain a few feet in altitude. Maybe the Colonel wouldn’t notice. “Where does Endermann fit into things,” he asked, feeling naked without the ability to communicate with ground control.
“Endermann is what is known as a gun for hire. He’s an American whose services are available to the security services of any country willing to pay him. My masters are currently using him … in an advisory capacity. So they believe. I now know he is a double agent.”
Sam pulled back on the yolk to miss a high, windswept rock rising from the sand. “Who else is involved with Endermann?”
“He has some ex-CIA operatives he uses from time to time. The man runs a small private army.”
Abadi sat in silence as Sam completed a chilling maneuver past a steel framed windmill supplying water to a green oasis.
“Faster,” ordered Abadi. “I know this plane can fly much faster.”
“You’ve got a choice,” said Sam as the passenger jet swooped up, over a massive sand dune, and down the other side. “If you want to go faster, we fly higher. Otherwise we stay at this speed.”
Suddenly the Colonel’s personal radio sounded again. This time he stayed in the copilot’s seat. “Do you know the route he is taking? Yes, my life depends on it.” He turned to Sam. “Endermann is on the move in a blue Mitsubishi pickup. He’s collected one of the local pilots from the Râs Banâs base.”
“Who were you talking to?” asked Sam. He felt it essential to be in on the big picture.
“You have a woman,” said the Colonel, sounding slightly embarrassed. “I observed the way you looked at your friend.”
“You mean Panya Pulaski?” It was his turn to appear awkward. “I’ve not known her long.”
Colonel Abadi laughed. “Women are at their best when you have not known them long. That is when they are still trying to please you. I too have a woman friend. She works at the Râs Banâs base. To the military she is simply my over-paid clerk, but I have given her duties that go far beyond the obligations of a clerk’s post.”
“I’ll bet,” said Sam quietly, and couldn’t bring himself to look at Abadi.
“I have ensured that she has access to many files. She even has an office of her own. I have been in touch with her on my personal radio for the past hour. You will turn east again now.”
Sam gained a few feet in altitude and banked sharply, putting the low sun directly behind them. He could see a file of cars in the distance, a cloud of dust materializing from the desert track. He waited for Abadi to get to the point.
“My friend, we are changing our plans again. We are no longer going to Râs Banâs. We will put down fifty miles before we reach the sea.” He spread the map out on his lap and pointed to an area to the west of some mountains. “I have just arranged for a helicopter to be ready to meet us … here.”
“I’m going to contact the airfield control tower,” said Sam, glancing only briefly at the map. “You’d better give me the coordinates.”
“Airfield, Mr. Bolt? There is no airfield between here and Râs Banâs.”
“It is simple, Mr. Bolt. You will land in the desert.”
“On the sand?”
“What other sort of desert is there?”
“It will wreck the plane, Colonel.”
Abadi shrugged. “Can you track Endermann’s vehicle in the mountains with this expensive jet?”
“No, we’d have to fly much faster than him, or we couldn’t stay airborne.”
“Then we have no choice but to use a helicopter. From what you have told me, I believe that Endermann will lead us to your so-called Eagle of Darkness. I am putting my future on the line for this unauthorized operation.”
“They would dismiss you?”
“No, Mr. Bolt, they would not dismiss me. They would shoot me. For treason.”
Again the adrenaline. Sam felt his stomach lurch, yet the Dornier was staying level. “And your woman friend is following them by car?”
“My clerk drives a desk, Mr. Bolt, but she will be receiving updates from our guard posts along the way. So far she has learned that Endermann has turned to the north, and is heading for the mountains in a bright blue Mitsubishi off-roader. And the pilot from the Râs Banâs base is still on board.”
“Eagles normally nest in the mountains.”
A momentary smile from Abadi. “Rather appropriate when you come to think of it.”
“I can’t land this plane on sand,” protested Sam. “We’ll have to go on to Râs Banâs.”
“I have already told you, Mr. Bolt, I do not want anyone there to know about this flight.”
“You can’t seriously expect me to land on sand. We’d never get off again.”
With a rapid movement Abadi drew a pistol from his briefcase, a handgun similar to a heavy-duty Beretta. He tapped the end of the barrel on Sam’s shoulder. The Dornier tipped forward just as a massive mound of sand filled the windscreen. The bottom of the fuselage caught the top of the dune with a heavy thump that shook the plane, and then they were clear.
Sam felt his hands tremble. They had so nearly ended up as a pile of mangled wreckage in the Eastern Desert.
Colonel Ben Abadi held the pistol close to his head. “Twenty more miles, and we should see our landing spot.”
Sam shook his head. “You’re not going to shoot me. You don’t want to die with me.”
Abadi put his hands on the copilot’s controls. “Do you think I cannot fly this plane on my own?”
It seemed unlikely that the Colonel could fly, but Sam wasn’t about to put the bluff to the test. “I’ll have a look at the site,” he conceded grudgingly. “But the decision about landing is up to me.”
Ahead he noticed a steep sided valley and what looked like a small sandstorm being whipped up on a flat area between the high hills. Abadi gripped his arm. “The helicopter is waiting for us,” he said.
“You bastard,” said Sam. “You’ve planned this all along. We were never going to land at Râs Banâs.”
Abadi pointed ahead at the ground. “Take the plane down on that that area of sand.”
Sam was working out whether it would be possible to turn if he overshot the landing area, but he was already flying into a deep valley. The height of the surrounding hills would make turning dangerous if not impossible. At the head of the valley, beyond the level patch of sand, a vertical cliff face filled the windscreen. If he went any lower, he could only attempt the landing once.
“You’re too high. Take it down now,” ordered the Colonel, waving his handgun.
“I’m going round once,” protested Sam. “I have to dump fuel.”
“Take it down now,” repeated Abadi, pressing the tip of the barrel into Sam’s side.
Sam hadn’t even decided whether to try a landing using the undercarriage, or make a pancake landing. He pushed the throttle levers forwards to ensure sufficient speed to stay airborne, and applied full flaps as he lowered the undercarriage. The Dornier felt as though it had run into a brick wall as the airspeed dropped abruptly, throwing him forward in his safety harness. The plane was now only a few feet off the ground.
With the stall alarm filling the cockpit he pulled the yolk back and cut the engines, attempting to drop the plane flat onto the small patch of sand. Then he realized that the landing area sloped upwards, and they were plowing into it as he leveled out. The sudden silence was followed by a deep thud as the underneath of the nose hit the soft sand with a jolt that knocked the wind from his body.
Sand and debris streamed over the cockpit windscreen as Sam shouted at Abadi to get ready to exit the plane. Surely the fuel tanks would be ruptured.
In the intense stillness that followed Abadi undid his harness and jumped to his feet. “You have done well, Mr. Bolt.”
Sam pulled the quick release lever for the side window escape. There was no time to lower the door. Anyway, the aircraft was too deep in the sand for the steps to unfold. He and Abadi squeezed through the open cockpit window and dropped onto the desert floor.
“Can you really fly a jet?” Sam asked as he brushed himself down.
Abadi shrugged. “A good player does not reveal all his cards.”
“I take it you can’t” said Sam, and Abadi just grinned.
The first thing Sam noticed was the chill of evening. It would be dark soon, and he never liked flying in helicopters, even in broad daylight. The pilot of the Jet Ranger waved across to Abadi.
Abadi pulled Sam by the arm. “Hurry up,” he ordered.
Sam took one look back at the Vatican Dornier as the dust settled around it. The plane would never fly again. Sticking into the sand at a slight angle, the wrinkled fuselage had taken a pounding but had not broken up, testimony to the strength of the executive jet, but an indictment on Abadi’s stupid plans.
The pilot in the Jet Ranger a hundred yards away waved them forward. Sam was pleased to note that he reached it slightly before Abadi. As soon as they were on board the Colonel put himself directly behind the pilot, leaving Sam to sit alongside him in the rear.
Abadi pulled out his pistol again. “We are going to the mountains,” he told the pilot, pressing the gun against the man’s neck, making a red mark in the skin around the end of the barrel. “No radio contact. Understand?”
The pilot nodded immediately. “Absolutely, Colonel.”
“Find the road to Waqib through the mountains. We’re looking for a bright blue Mitsubishi. A big four-wheel drive job. As fast as you can, and keep even lower than you dare.”
“Faster.” Abadi waved the gun. “And lower.”
The craft plunged to within six feet of the speeding sand dunes. Any moment the skids would become entangled with the occasional straggling shrub.
Sam closed his eves.
Old Cairo, Egypt
“WELCOME to Misrel-Qadimah, Panya.” Cardinal Fitz waved the driver away as the man tried to help him from the car. “It’s kind of you, I’m sure, but I’m not in my dotage yet.”
“Very good, Excellency.”
Panya winked at the Arab who had brought them from the airport in a police car. “Some people just can’t be helped,” she explained to him gently.
Cardinal Fitz heard and smiled broadly, his teeth white and even. “The good Lord has given me two legs, and I intend to use them for his work a while longer.”
Panya looked at the high walls of the ancient fort, similar to the old city of Mdina in Malta. One day she’d go back to Malta, with Sam. “Where’s the church?”
“Churches, mosques, synagogues: they’re all here, Panya. Misr el-Qadimah is hard for an elderly priest to be saying, so let’s be calling it by a name I can pronounce. Old Cairo. This is an ancient fort built by the Romans. Trajan I seem to think it was. The Christians and the Jews found enough in common, once, to be building their places of worship inside these walls.”
Panya noticed a few tourists coming and going through the gateway into the early fortifications. Fear of a second nuclear blast had not deterred all visitors to the sights of Cairo. “These churches all look so old,” she said.
“And to be sure they are. They’ve been tampered with over the centuries by well-meaning folk, but within this enclosure are some of the oldest Christian buildings in the world.”
“And the Church of Saint Sergius is here?”
“Just around this corner, Panya. It was built around the year five hundred, to mark the spot where the blessed Mary and Josef stayed when they had to flee to Egypt to escape from the wicked King Herod.”
“I hadn’t realized…”
“Not a lot of folk give the matter a second thought. Saint Luke tells us the Holy Family fled to Egypt with the infant Jesus, but doesn’t inform us where they might have been staying.”
Panya moved ahead, walking past rundown houses in the narrow alleyway. She stopped in front of a building of fading sandstone, its roof tiles red and uneven, a Coptic cross high above the doorway. If tradition was correct, the Savior had been to this very spot, perhaps even playing here as a small child. “And is this where the service is going to be tonight?”
“Indeed it is. This old church has been little more than a museum for the past hundred years, but tonight the marble pillars and ancient stones will be ringing out with praises.”
“As long as there are no explosives.”
“Ah yes. I was after forgetting the reason for this change of venue. The police are already down in the crypt and the sewers searching for explosives.”
“Is it all right to go in?” Panya hesitated at the sight of an armed guard standing just inside the doorway in heavy shadow.
“Don’t you be taking too much notice of him now.” Michael Fitz walked across and spoke to the man. “This young lady is being mindful of my welfare, so be kind to her.”
Panya followed Michael Fitz closely into the cool, almost cold, building. A choir was practicing at the front, to the accompaniment of a small orchestra. “How well do you know Colonel Abadi?” she asked.
“ The big man has been a constant source of assistance to me since I came to Cairo. Nothing has been too much trouble for him. A real man of God is our Colonel -- even if he isn't after worshipping as we do."
“And you’re sure the police have done a thorough search of the building?”
“As thorough as men can be. Sit down, Panya, listen to the music and do a little praying while I go down into the crypt and see a man about the lights. A powerful lot of electricity is going to be used in this building tonight. As you can see, everything is set up ready to go, so don’t be touching anything.”
Panya ran her hands over a smooth pillar, one of twelve each dedicated to Jesus Christ’s apostles. She wanted to feel a closeness to Christianity’s ancient past. The setting sun penetrated the dark glass of the high window in horizontal rays, casting colored patches on the far wall. Within three hours the church of Saint Sergius would be full to capacity.
In here would be Christians, Jews and Muslims, not wanting to compromise their separate faiths, but all trying to find some common ground for understanding and peace. It was an ideal opportunity for a terrorist attack. This attempt at tolerance and affinity would be destroyed if militants seized the initiative.
Sam should be here. Sam was … well, Sam was not the sort of man she’d ever been attracted to before. James had been a tender man with a calling to do God’s work, and Sam was a man who showed no signs of such a calling. But he had helped her at the Institute, and thanks to Sam she had got to Cairo in time to warn Cardinal Fitz.
“Sam, where are you now?” She sat on one of the closely packed chairs and thought back to her life in England, investigating Dr. Wynne and his prophecies.
The establishment will tremble from the sky to the abyss, and the followers of the One God will be confounded and their enemies will mock their destruction in the fallen house. The people of the Hebrews will be held accountable and destroyed. The new prophecy was little different from the earlier ones. To use Sam’s words, it was typical Aten-speak.
The prophecy for the al-Sûfiya mosque had been slightly different. The establishment will tremble from the depths. And it had, right from the foundations. But it had failed to kill the religious leaders, had failed to start the holy war that would tear religion and state apart. It had also failed to upset the precarious peace in the Middle East. And suddenly there had been this new prophecy that Dr. Wynne had said was not right.
The establishment will tremble from the heavens to the abyss. The choir finished their rehearsal and filed out of the church. Panya sat with her eyes closed, beneath the ceiling that had been darkened with soot from candles lit over the centuries by Egypt’s Christian community, perhaps right on the spot where Jesus had learned to speak his first words.
Then she opened her eyes and looked at the rows of massive television floodlights that almost touched the roof, freestanding on huge gantries so as not to damage the ancient fabric of the church. The painted ceiling was like looking into heaven, spoiled by man’s intrusion.
The establishment will tremble from the heavens to the abyss.
She got to her feet and made her way to the lighting technician’s ladder. From the top to the bottom.” Were they going to blow the roof? She wouldn’t say anything yet to the police. They’d only laugh at a woman. From the sky to the abyss. It would surely be worth a quick look up there.
THEY CALLED him el-Quraid, the Little Monkey. His family used no other name for the boy. At the age of nine el-Quraid would gladly have outgrown the tag, but it had become as permanent as his familiar grin and cheeky eyes. El-Quraid had something to smile about this afternoon. He had found a one hundred Egyptian pound banknote blowing between the tall railings outside the Jews’ synagogue. Such a lot of money he had never seen before. He thought of Uncle Hassan, the policeman, who was always saying Insha’ Allah when things went wrong. “It is the will of God.” His uncle never said it when things went right, but perhaps things never did go right for Uncle Hassan. It seemed that for Uncle Hassan the will of God was that nothing would be satisfactory, nothing would ever be a matter for thanks.
And now the will of God for el-Quraid was a one hundred Egyptian pound banknote.
Uncle Hassan would be jealous if he found out. One hundred Egyptian pounds would buy him a very good meal. Uncle Hassan wasn’t outside the church, but he was on duty somewhere close today.
The little Monkey had no intention of Uncle Hassan finding out.
To get to his apartment he had to pass some of the Christian churches his aunts were always warning him to avoid. At nine years old he was too sensible to get caught up in foolish arguments. These arguments, which he heard all day from his family, could never be insha’ Allah. Not in a million years. He felt for the money in the left-hand pocket of his shorts: the pocket that had no hole. His mother would be out of Aunty Meryl’s house soon, coming this way to look for him. Tomorrow at the market he would buy a surprise present for his mother, and some sweets for himself.
His play friend Kasim, a Copt, had told him that there was a ladder and lighting stands in the church, like the floodlights at the football ground. The guard at the door was talking to a policeman in the narrow street. A plan of sudden daring came to him. The Little Monkey would live up to his name. He would find the ladder and use it to climb up right onto the roof. It would be exciting to see Aunty Meryl’s house from so high up.
He slipped past and stared into the scary darkness. This wasn’t the first time he’d been into a church. Kasim was a Christian, and always claiming that, as a Copt, he was descended directly from the pharaohs. Occasionally, just occasionally, he’d let Kasim take him into the nearby church of Saint George. Never for a religious service, just to hunt around the strange-smelling interior for anything exciting in the way of lost treasure.
El-Quraid gasped as he saw the large lights suspended from two big frameworks. When the lights went on, surely the people in the church would melt, like candles set too close to the fire.
Where was the ladder to get up to the roof? Then he saw it. He darted forward and started to climb. Looking up he realized a woman was coming down. The woman had a long black skirt which suddenly caught on the back of one of the huge lights. Her skirt rode up, showing a pair of thin legs, and at the top of the legs … a pair of pink panties. Quickly he averted his eyes to preserve the woman’s modesty. The body of a woman was private, except to her husband. Every Muslim knew that.
“Could you help me?” the woman called. She sounded anxious. Her Arabic was good, but she wasn’t from Cairo.
El-Quraid looked down to see who she was calling to, but the church was empty. His heart racing and his face beginning to glow red, he put his hand to his eyes and peeped upwards between his fingers. “Are you calling me, lady?”
“My skirt,” she said. “It’s caught on this spotlight, and I don’t want to tear it. It’s the only one I’ve got.”
This was a job for women, not for men. He shook his head without looking up. “No way, lady. You wait there. I get you some help.”
The woman sounded scared. “Please hurry. I can’t hold on much longer.”
He climbed up two rungs of the ladder and then stopped. He shouldn’t even be in this building, and certainly shouldn’t be looking at a woman’s legs. Supposing he accidentally touched them. Well, it would be a good story to tell Kasim. He bet Kasim had never seen a woman’s legs, let alone managed to touch them.
Rapidly he made his way up, past the woman’s feet, before reaching out cautiously to where the black skirt was caught around the back of the large light.
“I’ll be quick,” he said, not daring to look at the legs. He just hoped that Kasim would never find out how, when presented with such a wonderful opportunity, he had failed so miserably to make bodily contact with an unknown woman.
“If you could just…”
El-Quraid pulled cautiously, but the skirt would rip if he pulled any harder. The light was circular, about a meter across. Then he realized that it was the large knob that held the back closed, that was trapping the hem of the skirt. Nimbly he turned the knob and pulled the back of the floodlight open.
Inside the light he could see something wrapped with bright wires. It looked like an alarm clock, the sort with numbers not hands. On top of it was a red light that suddenly began to flash rapidly. “What is it?” he asked, pointing to the bundle.
“Go back down,” the woman shouted. “Go back down quickly! It’s a bomb!”
He knew what bombs looked like, and they didn’t look like alarm clocks. The woman kept telling at him to go away, and a policeman started to climb the ladder. He looked like Uncle Hassan.
So, there was treasure to be discovered in Christian churches after all. He leaned forward, determined to have the alarm clock with a flashing red light as a present for his father, to help him get to work on time. The woman tore her skirt free and tried to push him away. He would reach in and be quick. He caught hold of it just as Uncle Hassan grabbed his ankles and tugged him free. The clock stayed where it was.
“El-Quraid, what are you doing here?”
Trust his uncle to be in the church, showing him up in front of adults. “There’s a clock here, Uncle. It’s…”
The explosion didn’t come from the clock. It shook the two lighting gantries from above. He watched as stones and pieces of wood flew through the air, followed by a tornado of black smoke. Still clinging to the metal framework, the woman and the gantries disappeared into the black smoke, leaving him on the ladder fixed to the wall, with Uncle Hassan still holding onto his ankles.
Slowly they climbed back down. Another policeman grabbed hold of him as he reached the bottom, gripping him tightly as he tried to take a close look at the unmoving body of the woman trapped under the metal frame. He could see blood seeping through her clothes.
Every seat in the church seemed to be covered in large bits and pieces from the roof. In his head he could still hear the explosion, and in his mind he could still see the flying metal and dust. He felt his knees begin to shake.
The policeman eventually released his hold and told el-Quraid to stay where he was while he went to talk to Uncle Hassan. He could hear them talking together. Then his uncle came over and gave him the news. He must go home quickly. There might be more bombs. The woman on the ground? She was dying.
El-Quraid broke free, running towards the gathering group of men who were trying to lift the metal framework from the woman’s body. She lay face down on the rough stone floor, her clothes stained bright red.
He reached into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out the banknote The reason for his sudden wealth was now obvious, Finding the money outside the synagogue on his way here was insha’ Allah, and it had to be spent wisely.
“Use it to make the lady better,” he said, giving it to the policeman dragging him outside.
Red Mountains, South East Egypt
AS THE SAND of the Eastern Desert turned to rocky outcrops, the pilot increased the altitude of the Jet Ranger. Colonel Ben Abadi nodded his head as though consent for the maneuver had been sought in advance, but already the aircraft was climbing rapidly. Sam smiled. The pilot was not a man to obey orders to a point where he would destroy his own life. The large rocks were still only just below skid height but they missed the craft, although hardly by a margin of safety.
The Colonel held the map open on his lap, having taken on the role of navigator. “As soon as we’re in that valley we’ll be out of ground radar vision. The AWACs aren’t covering the mountains yet. Make a bearing of zero-five-three degrees.”
The helicopter banked slightly to miss a windswept tree covered with a mass of dark green leaves. “Bearing zero-five-three,” confirmed the pilot.
“Pass between the two ridges at the top. I estimate twenty-five to thirty minutes and we’ll have the road in sight. I’m waiting for more news on the Mitsubishi.”
Sam watched the desolate landscape on each side. He could see occasional flock of sheep and goats on the rock-strewn slopes, seeking shelter in the fading light. An animal that looked like a gazelle leaped for the shelter of a rock as the pilot applied maximum power. A sudden increase in altitude made his ears pop. Then he noticed a series of tracks, wandering around the foot of the mountain. Four went higher, and one became a route that was probably used by the inhabitants of a remote village to take them from their valley, over the mountain, safely into the next valley.
He recalled Panya’s earlier attempts to explain her faith, and nodded to himself. Panya could be right. Maybe not all tracks led to the other side. Maybe he should have listened to her more closely. The Jet Ranger climbed almost vertically to miss the sheer rise of the high mountain. Egypt wasn’t all sand dunes and pyramids.
Colonel Abadi spoke into his radio, then turned to Sam. “I’ve just received a report of the Mitsubishi passing an army checkpoint…” he put a finger on the map, “… here.”
Sam looked to where the contour lines almost touched.
“Endermann and the pilot from Râs Banâs are still in the vehicle.” The Colonel seemed to be speaking as much to himself as to Sam. “The pilot in the Mitsubishi doesn’t fly helicopters. He’ll need an airstrip for whatever he’s flying.” He studied the map. “There is a flat military area near the top of the pass … here.”
“For launching missiles?”
“So why is there a pilot? You do not need a pilot to launch missiles from the ground, Mr. Bolt. No, the area is a disused army base with a landing strip. Perhaps Endermann has a jet concealed there. Perhaps that is the Eagle.” Abadi turned to the pilot. “Heading zero-six-four and minimum altitude. We need to get there before night. Not even you could fly a helicopter through these mountains after dark without night vision systems.”
Again the Jet Ranger banked, continuing the climb up the mountain without reducing speed. The pilot seemed determined to show his skills. Sam watched the jagged peaks increase in height faster than the Jet Ranger could climb towards them. The Red Mountain range was massive.
“Unfortunately this helicopter is without armament and without defensive systems,” Abadi told Sam. “That is what comes of getting equipment at short notice.”
The ground fell away sharply as they crossed a deep ravine. And there it was, a winding mountain pass resembling a length of contorted string. Colonel Abadi pointed excitedly. There was no mistaking that this was the right road. It was the only route through the mountains. Sam saw a blue pickup looking almost stationary.
The lack of speed was an illusion caused by the high altitude and the increasing darkness. As the Jet Ranger dropped behind the Mitsubishi, Sam realized just how fast the vehicle was being driven. Clouds of dust blew from the wheels, laying a trail three or four hundred yards in its wake.
“Follow from behind,” ordered Abadi. “It will be dark soon.”
In the fading light the pilot had his work cut out, keeping clear of the ravine while maintaining a position slightly behind the Mitsubishi. Sudden gusts of wind rocked the Jet Ranger as they watched Endermann reach the top of the pass, swinging to the right, onto an area of level ground marked out with a short runway.
“The airstrip was closed years ago,” said the Colonel, “but the old hanger is still there. And look at that!”
Sam looked to where Abadi was pointing. The black outline of a glider stood outside the hanger. The wings were longer and much wider than a typical club glider.
“It’s a Gideon One,” said Abadi. “We had a report of unidentified aircraft movements three weeks ago, before the AWACs came on patrol. Nothing showed up on the satellite images. Obviously no one thought to send a party up here to investigate the old hanger.”
Sam knew about the Gideon One. An experimental Israeli stealth aircraft, it could be towed to forty thousand feet before being released, silently crossing the border of a neighboring country for a brief high-level nighttime reconnaissance in total silence, in order to eavesdrop on hostile military bases and suspect refugee camps, before returning home by itself. The Israelis had quickly learned the value of silent surveillance, and had come up with the vastly superior Gideon Two, making this model obsolete. Some of these experimental Gideon Ones were piloted, and others were flown by remote control, but they all flew without power once the tug released them. The Gideon Two was very different in design, with a small propeller powered briefly by electricity to maintain position, with the advantage of advanced cladding to achieve greater invisibility to ground radar.
“It’s not exactly a nuclear missile,” said Sam.
“Take out the surveillance equipment and you could easily put a small nuclear device on board. Perhaps even larger than the one that devastated Beni Mazar.” Abadi swore quietly. “The Israelis are rumored to have lost one of these craft over Saudi Arabia four years ago. I’m guessing this is it.”
The last light from the sky caught the wings of a single engined airplane by the hanger, presumably the tug that would launch the glider. If the Gideon One contained a nuclear warhead it would obviously be pilotless, so the tug would have to release it in the right direction and get clear before the blast. The glider wouldn’t have to hit any special target to cause destruction.
“The canopy is off the glider, but they’re getting ready for take-off,” said Abadi. “I can see a fuel tanker down there.”
The driver of the tanker suddenly noticed the Jet Ranger and pointed to the sky. Two men leaped from the Mitsubishi, one of them running towards the old hanger.
One moment Sam saw what looked like panic on the ground, then a missile climbed skywards, white smoke trailing from the hanger doors.
The pilot tipped the Jet Ranger onto its side, diving sharply in a hasty maneuver. The small missile seemed to pass harmlessly to the rear, but a jolt rocked the helicopter as the tail rotor exploded into fragments. The cockpit starting to turn with increasing speed, and Sam felt his head being flung violently around.
“We’re going down,” shouted the pilot, cutting the engine too late to stop the helicopter rotating.
It seemed that the ground was turning as they headed for a pile of rocks at the far end of the old airstrip. Too late, Sam realized he had not latched his seat belt.
The impact was immense: the noise extreme.
As his head cleared, he saw he was lying on sand by some large rocks to one side of the wreckage of the Jet Ranger. Something in his chest made breathing almost impossible, but he felt strangely numb all over. He could smell the fuel, but there was no fire. Colonel Abadi and the pilot lay strapped in the wreckage, but only Abadi was moving.
The Mitsubishi driving across the airstrip was not coming to make a rescue. Sam rolled behind a rock, frantic to stay out of sight. The ground seemed significantly darker than it had looked in the air, although the moon now showing over the mountain top filled the airfield with a blue glow.
The Mitsubishi stopped, the wreckage of the Jet Ranger brightly illuminated in its powerful headlights. Sam raised his head as two men jumped out. He could see one of them was holding a handgun.
“Over here, Mr. Endermann.”
A giant of a man ran to the helicopter and fired twice. The pilot’s body remained motionless as the bullet ripped into his chest, but Colonel Abadi’s head leaped back under the impact of the bullet, his eyes suddenly open.
Sam lay still as the two men glanced around before hurrying back to the Mitsubishi and returning to the hanger. The big man must be Endermann, and he was careless in not checking for anyone else. This gave Sam hope. A careless man was not a thinking man. And already his head hurt less.
The smell of spilled fuel from the Jet Ranger seemed to be getting stronger. He looked at Colonel Abadi’s body hanging from the seat, and remembered how the man had earlier threatened the pilot with a pistol. Endermann had picked nothing up just now. He’d find the gun and get to the hanger.
The gun gleamed by the rocks, catching the light from the moon that had now appeared over the mountain top. He picked it up and examined the chamber. One up the spout and the magazine full. Colonel Abadi hadn’t been bluffing. He went to the two bodies strapped in their seats and felt for a sign of life. Both men were dead. Endermann’s bullets had made sure of it.
He could see Endermann and two other men refueling the small aircraft. The canopy for the glider had still not been fitted. Sam guessed the abandoned runway was too badly pitted for a jet, but the light prop aircraft would be able to use it. He wondered if he should lie down at the end of the runway and wait for the plane to pass overhead, then shoot at it with the Colonel’s pistol. No, it was an idea unlikely to succeed. Abadi’s memory demanded a better plan than that. There might be an AKM by the hanger. If he could get there, he might be able to shoot his way out.
He tried to run, crouching low, while watching for signs of activity. The impact during the crash had temporarily deadened his feelings, but the pain was now hitting him hard in the chest. He dropped to the ground close to the hanger, trying not to cry out.
“You’re going to pay for those two lives,” he said aloud, his voice causing him a moment of anxiety. He’d not meant to make a sound, especially as he was now within firing range. Slowly he lined up Abadi’s pistol, holding it firmly with both hands. Brightly lit by the moon, the cockpit of the tug sat across the sights on the top of the barrel, with the stubby foresight positioned on the pilot’s door. From back here he could cause damage. From half this distance he could cause devastation. He crawled forward.
Râs Banâs, Egypt
COLONEL Schenkmuller of the United States Air force sat impatiently in his Jeep at the Râs Banâs airbase, listening to Endermann giving him orders on the radio. It seemed that someone in a Jet Ranger helicopter had been chasing the man.
“I’m not interested in your local problems. We have to get that glider in the air before the eclipse,” Schenkmuller snapped, not caring what Endermann thought. “There’s nothing more I can do. You wanted me here at Râs Banâs to cause confusion when the tug blows.”
Across the parking lot in the main control room, men sat hunched over green phosphor screens, alert for any trace of unidentified aircraft. All hell would break loose when the Eagle of Darkness appeared over the base. There could be no second chance. Another twenty-four hours and the American AWACs would be operational right down the Red Sea, and he knew that Endermann’s plan would be useless.
“Leave the bodies where they are, Endermann. When this mother cow gets over Berenice, the world will have more to worry about than two stiffs in a crashed chopper. Get your Eagle launched, and get the hell out of it!”
Endermann obviously didn’t like the tone of voice, and made the fact clear. He was in charge, he said, and he gave the orders.
Schenkmuller laughed. “Okay, Endermann, if you don’t need me, just say so.” He knew how to treat arrogant men. “I’m going to sign on for duty.”
He slipped from his Jeep and glanced across at the large moon bathing the base in a cold blue light. Within the hour the light would slowly dim as the lunar eclipse started. A few men worked on aircraft at the far side of the airfield, but the air seemed curiously silent. It was difficult to believe that this peace was about to be shattered.
Red Mountains, South East Egypt
ENDERMANN kicked at the dust under his boots. It was stupid to get worked up about a small-minded colonel in the USAF. Anyway, Schenkmuller was already being dealt with. Sometimes it was necessary to use people who were inadequate, in order to achieve a goal. But there was no need to retain them once the work was complete. He turned angrily to the tug pilot. “We’re going to be late. Get that canopy on. I thought you had this glider ready.”
“It is nearly ready, sir.”
“And the warhead controls are set?”
“All is fine, Mr. Endermann. Ahmed showed me exactly what to do.”
Endermann called to the Egyptian tanker driver. “You sure you haven’t cheated? This plane has enough fuel for the job?”
The driver jumped to attention. “Exactly as you ordered, sir.”
Endermann nodded. “Then come round to the side of the hanger and I’ll pay you. I may have to leave here in a hurry.”
Endermann noticed how the man grinned in eager anticipation. He’d seen it before. The excitement on the face: the gratitude for cash payment. People always said he was thorough.
How did the driver think he could explain the absence of a fuel tanker from the Râs Banâs base? Did the idiot really think he would be allowed to tell tales on who was behind the Eagle of Darkness. Endermann screwed the silencer onto the end of the barrel as the driver came for his remuneration.
SAM WATCHED the heavy caliber bullet burst out through the man’s chest in a cloud of blood, making hardly a sound. The pilot continued to adjust the tow rope, obviously unaware of the killing by the hanger. Trying not to notice the pain in his ribs, Sam slowly lined up Abadi’s handgun on the pilot’s head.
Faced with a live target in the sights he froze. Endermann was the killer who deserved to die, but this man might be innocent. It was all Panya’s fault that he was here, anyway. And what was Panya doing at this moment? Probably having a homely meal with her church cronies in Cairo, far away from all this pain and danger.
Endermann strolled back to check the tow rope and speak to the pilot again. Sam got down on one knee with the pistol at arm’s length, taking careful aim at the big man’s chest. But the pain in his body made his arm start to tremble. Quickly he gently squeezed the trigger. Endermann stayed standing. Sam looked at the handgun. Somehow he’d missed.
Endermann reacted quickly. Two shots zipped across the open tarmac towards the low wall where Sam crouched. Pieces of masonry flew into the air. Sam tried a two-handed grip this time, resting the butt on the wall.
But Endermann was already in the Mitsubishi, slamming the door of the vehicle shut. Swinging the gun towards the off-roader, Sam fired low into the darkness, hoping to hit the tires as the Mitsubishi accelerated through the broken gates. The off-roader dropped out of sight on the tortuous descent.
Sam staggered painfully to the top of the pass, watching the bright headlights sweep backwards and forwards through the endless series of hairpin bends, the vehicle’s tires obviously intact.
Sam hauled himself up into the cab of the fuel tanker and saw the key still in the ignition. Quickly he turned it. The seconds seemed like an hour before the engine fired.
The large truck lurched forward as he found the switch for the headlights. Knocking the gear into neutral he kept the wheel straight ahead, aiming the tanker at the low wall separating the road from the cliff face.
It was time to jump.
He fell heavily onto the ground as the tanker crashed through the wall, the red lights launching themselves into space like the tail of a rocket shooting into the night.
He crawled awkwardly to the edge to watch the truck crashing downwards. Sweeping headlights showed the position of Endermann’s Mitsubishi negotiating a hairpin far below.
The tanker burst into flames, an orange inferno gushing from the ruptured tank of aviation fuel as it plowed remorselessly through the winding ribbon of road, careening through low stone walls and safety barriers. The noise of destruction echoed through the valley and the night. And all the time the enveloping flames got closer to the fleeing Endermann.
At first it looked as though the timing was unlucky. The wreckage of the tanker, still spewing fire, shot across the road in front of the Mitsubishi as Endermann hit the brakes. The Mitsubishi’s red tail lights shone brightly as it avoided the tanker. Then it skidded on the burning trail of fuel and turned sideways, crashing through the wall, before rolling down the fiery trail.
Suddenly the tanker stopped, its energy spent, coming to rest in a massive ball of fire. Endermann and his Mitsubishi landed on top of the flames, the two vehicles becoming one.
The sound of the aircraft engine roared across the old airstrip. In the moonlight Sam saw the single-engined airplane and glider moving down the runway. He felt for Abadi’s handgun, but it must have fallen from his pocket in the cab of the tanker.
SAM FELT helpless: no gun, no transport, and a crippling pain slamming through his body. He should have rammed the tanker into the plane before sending it over the edge, making sure the Eagle of Darkness stayed in its nest.
The single engined plane taxied towards him, needing to get to the end of the runway for take-off into the easterly wind. Of the three men originally on this old airstrip, only the pilot was left alive. The Gideon One glider followed the tug on its wheeled undercarriage, a trolley that would surely be jettisoned automatically on takeoff. Somehow he had to stop the launch. It would be risky trying to jump onto the tug to attack the pilot. The propeller would chop him into pieces if he misjudged the distance.
He waited for the plane to halt, so he could run forward in the darkness and unhitch the tow rope. But the pilot slewed his aircraft around to face the wind with the engine revs high, and in one continuous movement both plane and glider began to roll forward for take-off. There was no slack in the tow rope, and no time to find a way to unhitch it.
The glider still had an open cockpit. The pilot hadn’t waited to fit the canopy in his rush to get away. It might be possible to jump on board. Perhaps the Gideon handled like the small airplanes he’d flown during training. Perhaps Panya would hear that someone had tried to fly a Gideon One away from Râs Banâs before crashing into the mountains. Would she wonder if he was the pilot who had been fried beyond identification in a radioactive blast?
The black machine was already accelerating past him on its wheeled trolley to be lost in the night. For a moment the pain in his body evaporated and he sprinted forward, grabbing hold of the edge of the open cockpit. The glider tipped alarmingly as he threw his body in.
He looked anxiously at the green glow of instrument lights, realizing that not only did this glider lack any sort of seat, there was no joystick or rudder bar. This airplane was adapted to fly solely by remote control, with no mechanical over-ride. Wherever the glider was going, he would be going there too.
As the speed increased, the jolting from the broken runway threw him backwards. Small stones and debris from the wash of the tug hurtled over the top of his head. He lay flat, below the level of the fuselage. They were already going too fast to abort take-off.
Then they were airborne, leaving the temporary undercarriage behind on the ground. One moment the shaking from the runway had been throwing him from side to side, and now the ride became strangely fluid, a sensation enhanced by the massive rush of wind. And the pain in his chest returned cruelly.
The glow in the sky to the west showed where the sun had recently set. To the south must lie Berenice and Râs Banâs, but the pilot was making for the north, the engine straining as it raised both tug and glider higher and higher towards the mountain peaks. Ahead lay the sheer face of a mountain, unseen in detail, but forming a black mass that completely obstructed their flight path.
The pilot was on a Kamikaze suicide mission, flying himself and the glider into the rock face.
Then the aircraft banked sharply to the left, the glider mimicking the angle of turn with absolute accuracy. The remote control system and the servos were perfect. Carefully he reached forward, hoping to find switches that might over-ride the radio receiver or on-board microprocessors. The control box felt smooth on the outside: no provision had been made for manual use. This was not some amateur set-up. The glider controls showed signs of sophisticated design, even managing to compensate for his unexpected weight.
He began to explore the small cockpit area that was set unnaturally far back, well behind the wings. There was only one explanation: the front section was designed to hold a large weight. Like a model glider, it needed a large weight in the nose in order to fly level. So the Eagle of Darkness must be fully laden, and going into action.
For a moment the pain in his ribs became too much and he thought he was going to pass out. He imagined he could hear Cardinal Fitz telling him again that Sally was alive, and the children would be returned. Well, he’d blown that one. Karen and Tom would soon be without a father.
He raised his head above the cockpit shield in order to get a blast of cold air in his face, to keep his reactions functioning through the pain. The towing plane continued to turn, with the disused mountain base now far below in the moonlight. Small spurts of flames came from the wrecked tanker in the valley floor.
The Institute and Panya seemed to belong to a different lifetime. Denby Rawlins was dead, but Dr. Wynne would be in England, still bleating about his Prophecy, and still being used by subversive forces to further their aims.
As the glider banked automatically for yet another turn, Sam imagined Panya at her service in the church of Saint Sergius, perhaps even at this time sitting in a front seat. She was safe, and he was about to die. It was a strange world.
One more circuit up and back down the long valley, and they would be almost level with the top of the mountain. The icy air numbed his face and streams of tears blurred his vision as he looked out. They had been flying for nearly an hour now amongst the mountain range, almost certainly hidden from the Râs Banâs radar. The plane must have climbed three thousand feet, the engine of the tug straining as the altitude increased. The tow rope gleamed white in the moonlight: not straight, but sagging gently in the middle.
And now an orange shadow began to move across the face of the moon. The eclipse had begun. One more turn and they were flying south. In the far distance he could clearly see the lights of a town. Berenice.
Sam tensed, thinking about the nuclear explosion that was imminent and unavoidable. A loud bang shook the glider as the tow rope separated. The end fell away from the hook on the nose of the glider, the white snake disappearing out of sight below the tug. The pilot went into a steep dive, to be lost in the blackness below.
The dark sides of the mountain range slipped away as the glider emerged into the open, the wind shrieking around the black wings. The runway lights of an airfield winked in a golden shimmer as the Gideon One went into a shallow dive. Râs Banâs.
From far below came a blinding flash as the tug exploded, the fiery outline tumbling through the air. That was no nuclear blast; it was caused by conventional explosives. He wiped his eyes for another look at the glowing instrument lights.
Suddenly he realized that a glider couldn’t constantly change direction to compensate for wind direction on its own. There must be a gyro compass on board, and electronics to receive a signal from an onboard controller. To alter the glider’s altitude and direction there would also be rods or wires running to the rudder and elevators. The black box merely took the part of the pilot, with its servos in charge of flying on a computer programmed course.
He clawed around the floor area, desperately hoping to find these control wires. Every move he made, momentarily upset the steady flight, but the automatic control system quickly rectified the changes. Behind, emerging from under the flat floor, he could feel a space running back towards the tail. And then he found some cables, four of them. He caught hold of one, pulling it firmly.
The glider started to dip, the sudden change in altitude being accompanied by increasing air speed. He tried to pull the adjacent wire but it needed more force than he could apply. Perhaps if he slid backwards in the fuselage his weight would help bring the nose up.
The dive seemed to be less steep but the air speed was now too high. Lying full length inside the enclosed rear of the glider it was possible to apply considerable force to the wire. With a frightening swoop the nose came up, the glider stalled, dived again, and then leveled itself as it regained sufficient airspeed. He waited for the adrenalin to die down before crawling back to the cockpit area as the auto control took over to maintain level flight.
The Râs Banâs base looked much closer now. A double row of lights straight ahead marked the outline of a massive runway. Even if he could rip the controls from the panel and cause the glider to crash early, the warhead would still decimate the region. His only chance of survival was a gentle touchdown, and hope that the warhead would not be triggered.
But his airspeed was clearly too high for a safe touchdown. The sky seemed to be growing darker. He glanced at the moon, which was now a dark orange in the starry sky. The eclipse was almost complete.
Then he saw what he had been dreading, the blue and white blast of flames as a missile wound its way up from the airfield.
“Panya, I need you! Lord God, I need you!”
Then the missile was gone, the roar from the exhaust deafening. The heat seeking sensors had found nothing to lock on to. Had he really prayed the first serious prayer of his life?
He pulled at the control wire that had initiated the first dive, and again the nose dipped, but too steeply. Quickly he released the wire to reduce the angle of descent. But the steep angle of dive was maintained, the wind howling through the slender airframe. He had less than two minutes before impact.
Râs Banâs, Egypt
COLONEL Schenkmuller nodded in satisfaction as the men shouted in alarm from behind their green phosphor screens. The base was under attack from the air. The explosion of the tug had caused the required diversion, but now the controllers had detected the faint radar echoes from the Gideon One.
He knew that in the last five minutes they could have launched more firepower than had been used on a busy day in the Gulf War -- if he'd given the orders. The young officer who had fired the SAM would be reprimanded. Kramer's plan would never have succeeded if the glider had been hit. It was hard to maintain order amongst all the hysteria. Schenkmuller went to the control tower window. At the far end of the runway three F-117s were preparing for take-off. All for a lone glider.
And there it was, the black outline of the Gideon One glistening in the glow from the runway lights. The approach angle was steep and the speed high. It had been programmed to home-in on the landing beacon, going into a vertical dive from fifteen hundred feet. The electronic sensors were designed to crash the glider nose first, but at this crazy angle it might land intact. No matter, the Eagle of Darkness was on time and on target.
Schenkmuller looked around. No one was watching him. He pulled the silver hip flask from his pocket. Of course drinking on duty was strictly forbidden, and the slightest suggestion of alcohol on anyone’s breath meant immediate suspension. But Endermann had given him the flask with the suggestion that it would be fitting to toast the Eagle of Darkness. “Have a drink on me to celebrate touchdown.” It amused him to think that Endermann had thought it necessary to invite him to have a sip. Everyone knew he liked a drink. And now it was time to revel in success.
He unscrewed the cap. “To Operation Oracle”
Ten seconds later his body jerked violently as he fell to the control room floor.
Râs Banâs, Egypt
WAS A BRUTAL death worse than a gentle one? At least it would be quick. Sam watched the airfield lights rushing towards him. If the glider pulled out of this dive too steeply it would stall again, but this time there would be no room for recovery. The nose would flip upwards, drop, then the glider would plummet vertically onto the runaway, killing him for sure. He found the elevator control wire and tugged at it until the nose at last came up.
It seemed that the glider was leveling out. Maybe it would make some sort of controlled landing. But the nuclear explosion would be violent, and probably painless.
He crouched in the open cockpit, ready to jump, or perhaps be thrown clear.
But he would die anyway.
The glider was going to land, but much too short of the runway. Already he could see emergency vehicles with blue flashing lights speeding his way. His left wing caught one of the pylons for the approach lights, the black glider cart-wheeling through the air, throwing him clear as it came to a halt.
He lay on his back in the dry grass, pain slicing through his body. Any second now he would be vaporized by the bomb. The emergency vehicles screeched to a halt, spotlights blazing, men shouting. He waited for the blast that would take him into eternity.
Râs Banâs, Egypt
“YOU ARE an Israeli death pilot.” The American base commander lit a cigarette and studied Sam as he lay on the makeshift bed, ignoring his cries for medical help.
Sam found any sort of reply added to his agony. “Just get me a doctor, you bastard!”
The American shook his head. “You’re under my jurisdiction … at the moment. The Egyptians want to tear you apart, but I prefer to do it to you myself. Colonel Abadi was a traitor, and he’s dead, and so is his helicopter pilot. We found their bodies by the old airstrip where you launched your Gideon One.”
“Just get me to hospital,” moaned Sam.
“You can stay here in pain all night for all I care. Explain the Israeli markings on the nuclear warhead in the glider.”
Sam shook his head. “I’ve told you all I know. I’ve already asked you to get in touch with Cardinal Fitz. He’ll support my story.”
“The Cardinal has offered to fly down here, but I think we’re wasting our time with a member of the clergy.”
“Then get Panya Pulaski.”
“The woman is dead. Or nearly so. Look, we’ve taken the Gideon One apart, and we still can’t figure out why it didn’t explode. Did you want it found intact?”
“I’m innocent,” Sam protested.
“The instruments and the nuclear warhead have Israeli markings,” the American commander repeated as he leaned over the bed. “Hell, man, what’s going on? I say you’re an Israeli suicide pilot, and your country’s plan is to start aggression with Egypt. I don’t want to throw you to the wolves, but I can’t keep the lid on this much longer. You’ll not get this sort of care if I hand you over to the Egyptian military.”
Sam looked at the ceiling, biting his lip to avoid crying out with pain. He needed urgent medical attention. This treatment amounted to torture. “You’re lying about Panya Pulaski, you bastard.”
“I can assure you I’m telling you the truth. I only wish you’d do the same to me.”
Sam twisted onto his side, but the pain from his chest was too much and he rolled back. Several of his ribs must be broken, but his lower back had a pain that was even worse than the nightmare in his chest. “Get me to a hospital,” he repeated hoarsely.
“When you’ve told me what’s going on. Are there any more warheads?”
“Does the name Endermann mean anything to you?”
“It might. He’s a Middle East security adviser. He’s been working for us here at Râs Banâs. Do you know him?”
“I killed him. You’ll find the remains of his body on the road below the old airstrip.” Sam felt too angry to take any heed of caution. “You’re all bastards, and you’re all trying to start a Middle East war.”
The commandant looked interested. “I’ll admit to being a bastard, but I’m not involved in hostile action. Very well, I’ll contact your Cardinal Fitz. In the meantime I’m transferring you to hospital, but don’t think you’re off the hook, fella. If you really have killed Endermann, the CIA is going to crucify you.”
SPAXLEY STARED at the crystal clear water rippling its way around the outside of the large boulders, leaving an area of still water in between. Fishing here now with Kramer he could relax. Every fly he tried was a winner. “Are you recruiting again?”
Kramer flicked his line, the green strand streaking over the water. “Sorry, Admiral, I still have two more warheads, but the heat is on the Middle East. Those warheads will have to stay where they are for a couple of years.”
“I’m here if you need me.”
“Great cast, Kramer.” Actually it was pathetic, but he needed to keep on the right side of the CIA man now. There could be further work in the offing. He cast his own line, the Parachute Adams fly landing almost perfectly. “At least we’re both in the clear.”
Kramer flicked his Royal Wulff, but it landed on the rocks, not between them in the calm water. “Is that what you think? I say it was bungled from the start. Your communications man in Cheltenham would have sung like a canary if I’d let him live.”
“Withington was Endermann’s man.”
“Endermann’s dead. I put you in there to take control. You blew it, Admiral.”
Spaxley reeled in his line and felt unexpectedly anxious. “I lacked the full authority for success on a major mission. Why didn’t you put me in there at the beginning?”
Kramer made a mess of his next cast. “That glider should have been scattered all over the runway. Unfortunately the English airline pilot was there to mess things up. If the Râs Banâs base had bought the Israeli markings and informed the Arabs, Israel would be destroyed by now. Because it landed like it did, they were able to see that we’d fixed the nuclear warhead not to detonate.”
“I didn’t know,” said Spaxley.
“Did you really expect it to go up? Hell, we couldn’t have another nuclear blast over there; not on top of our guys in Râs Banâs. Even now there’s a lot of international heat. Several Muslim states believe Israel is ready to use the bomb.”
“At least you’ve managed to hush up the clamor for a public inquiry.”
“Keeping hot potatoes out of the public domain is my job, Admiral.”
“Sure, Kramer. It was one hell of an undertaking. What about Sam Bolt? He’s still alive, And his woman friend is hanging on, so I’ve heard.”
“What they know doesn’t add up to a can of beans. They don’t know the name of anyone still alive who was in Endermann’s team. But I guess I’ll have to go to England to put the fear of God into them when they’re out of hospital.”
“They know my name,” said Spaxley.
“You don’t seem bothered.”
“They made fools of themselves at the press conference. No one will want to listen to them now. The public doesn’t know there was a nuclear warhead in the glider, and as far as the press is concerned the nuclear blast south of Cairo is still unexplained. The Institute of Egyptologists is closed. There’s only one key member of the team who still needs attention.”
“Not me, I hope.” He said it as a joke.
“You failed me, Admiral.”
Spaxley smiled nervously. “Come on, Kramer, give me a break. You and I are buddies from way back. I could help, if you want another crack at Operation Oracle.”
“You’re a stupid old man. You were even considered a liability when you were at the White House. Most of the staff were glad to see you go. You can blame Olsen for starting the rot, and Ahmed for his incompetence with the timings on the explosives. But look at your own failings. You let Tolley identify you at the press conference. A serious mistake, Admiral.”
“I was trying to help.”
“You don’t understand my position. I can’t afford to have anyone talking out of turn.”
“What about Stephan? The British SIS still have him.”
“Admiral, Admiral, what makes you think the man who arrested you both in Cheltenham was SIS?”
“He was yours?”
Kramer just nodded, a faint smile on his face. “I let you go because I thought you could keep your mouth shut. I couldn’t trust Stephan.”
“Don’t worry about me, Kramer.” He smiled in return. “I won’t talk.”
Kramer reached into his brown wicker basket. From it he produced a Colt 45 with a stubby silencer. “I can guarantee you won’t, Admiral.”
IT TOOK nearly four weeks for Grant Spaxley’s decomposing body to be found face down in the shallow water. Kramer was at Langley working on a Middle East security problem at the time, and expressed only a passing interest in news of Spaxley’s death. He said he had trouble even remembering him. Wasn’t he the White House press man with the nickname of Admiral? Yes, he’d got him now. He’d not seen him since … since before the man retired.
THERE WERE times when Sam felt like knocking his head against the wall until he fell unconscious. The fractured ribs began to heal, but the metal pins holding his pelvis together became a constant source of pain. But the greatest hurt came from knowing that Panya faced a lifetime of paralysis.
Three times a week a private ambulance took him from the city hospital to see Panya at the nearby Catholic clinic of Santa Maria. She could talk properly now, and often managed a smile. It made him angry to see her like this. There had been no public inquiry, no investigation into the plot to end the fragile peace of the Middle East. An advisor from the British government told him it wouldn’t serve the cause of world peace. What a load of bull. That Gideon glider should have provided all the proof they needed, but the affair had been swept away with a stern warning to keep the matter to himself.
Perhaps investigations were proceeding in secret. The findings of these inquiries were never revealed. They fingered incompetent people in top posts. No wonder everyone in authority wanted it hushed up.
England, Seven months later
IN EARLY JUNE the doctors agreed to release Panya into her next stage of care, in a convalescent home run by a group of Catholic Sisters. A quadriplegic with a high-level spinal injury, her one boast was that she wasn’t incontinent.
“I love the grounds,” Sam said, taking hold of the handles on the wheelchair. “I’ll push you.” He at least had recovered, although the steel pins in his back had to stay in place for a few more months. He’d watched the plastic surgery on Panya’s face becoming more effective with each operation at the hospital, but it would be a long time before she could go out without drawing horrified glances from the public.
“Thanks, Sam. I want you to take me through the woodland walk.”
“You’ll have to show me the way,” he said. He’d been out of action and not able to see Panya for the last two weeks, while the surgeon at his own hospital had decided to reset two of his ribs. He had quite a bit of news to share.
Panya looked up from her wheelchair. “Could you put my glasses on for me? They’re in the purse on my lap.”
He picked them up. No longer the slim violet frames, this large replacement pair were made from heavy pink plastic. No doubt some well-meaning helper had chosen them. Panya deserved better than this. He determined to get her a pair identical to the ones she was wearing when they first met. He hesitated. Was it possible to turn the clock back? Was it even advisable to try? “Is there some something special you want me to see?” he asked.
“One of the Catholic Sisters here has been telling me about the water lilies in a pool in the woods.”
It was strange the way their relationship had developed. Two disabled people sharing pain, and never once questioning whether they should continue to see each other. Perhaps if they’d emerged from Cairo unscathed they would have drifted apart by now. He fitted the clumsy glasses over the scarred nose and ears. Panya could raise her arms stiffly, but her hands were without feeling and without movement.
“Bill Tolley’s out and about again and making a nuisance of himself with Dr. Wynne,” he said, as he began to push the wheelchair towards the woodland walk. “Bill phoned me yesterday for a chat. I was going to tell him to get lost, but I suddenly felt sorry for the man.”
Panya nodded. “We could ask him to meet us here sometime soon.”
“Dr. Wynne called round to see me yesterday morning. Bill Tolley’s persuaded him to have another go at getting sound out of the grooves on Frau List’s cylinder.”
“I said it’s a job best left to experts. He ought to give it to one of the museums, but he insisted on leaving it with me. Said no museum wanted to get involved after the Institute fiasco.”
“You’re as crazy as Gresley Wynne if you’ve got yourself dragged into that.”
Sam smiled. “I’ve got a few ideas I want to try. That yogurt pot wasn’t the best way. I’m going to use sound filters on my computer. Dr. Wynne wants me to keep my findings hush-hush.”
“I don’t imagine he trusts anyone nowadays.” Panya shook her head. “I’m not sure I trust anyone either. I still wake up hearing that explosion in the church and thinking it’s happening again.”
He looked down quickly at Panya. Her long black skirt covered her misshapen legs. “You seem to be taking it well.”
“It’s the only way,” she said quietly, but without any great conviction.
She tipped her head forward and the glasses fell onto her lap. Her eyes blazed. “Look at me, Sam. Nothing has come out right.”
He wanted to calm her down. He’d touched a raw nerve. “You’ve every right to feel bitter.”
“I’m not bitter. Mixed up, confused, frustrated. But not bitter.” For a moment her face flickered with an involuntary movement and she turned her head away quickly. “Damn it, Sam, I still cry so much you wouldn’t believe it.”
He stopped pushing, and crouched down to put his arm round her. “A few months ago I thought you had all the answers.”
“I’ve never had all the answers. All I have is my faith.”
“It doesn’t seem to have done you much good.”
“Is that what you think?” Panya sounded angry. “Jesus Christ didn’t have an easy life on earth, and he didn’t promise an easy life to his followers. We’re only here for a few years. He’s promised to be always with me, and because of that, I intend to achieve something for him.”
Sam stood back, embarrassed. “I was trying to imagine what it’s like to be in a wheelchair.”
“But you can’t.”
“You’re right, I can’t.” He felt like kicking himself for being so tactless.
Panya bit her lip. “I’m sorry, I’m being selfish. Tell me about Bill Tolley. What did he have to say?”
Sam recalled his phone call with the reporter. “He’s been back at work for a month. He’s really fired up. Wants to find out who Endermann was working for, but he’s not liked to bother us.”
“That doesn’t sound like the Bill Tolley who used to turn up on your doorstep every day.”
Sam laughed. “I think the fall from the window affected his brain. He’s not nearly as obnoxious now. He wants to help.”
“Tell him to start with what’s left at the Institute of Egyptologists. The police still haven’t charged anyone with the murder of Denby Rawlins.”
He felt in his pocket for the letter. He’d kept the best news till last. “I got this from the health authorities today. They think I’m well enough to look after Karen and Tom full time now. They’re being allowed home for one night. As a trial.”
“Have you … you know … talked with Sally about keeping the children full time?”
“ She doesn't want anything more to do with them -- or me. I'm going to get my life back to normal. The children came round to see me yesterday afternoon and I showed them Heidi List's cylinder. I even tried to play it for them with a yogurt pot."
Karen and Tom had giggled at what they called daddy’s “silly noise.” He was glad they’d been relaxed enough to laugh. It was the first time Karen had given him so much as a smile on their occasional get-togethers. Had he been a fool in Egypt to imagine Panya standing with him at the front door as the children ran up the path into his arms? He’d probably been a fool to imagine Panya wanting to do anything with him. And now, even if she wanted to, she couldn’t. She was stuck in the wheelchair, unable to move anything except her head and arms.
“A penny for them.”
He looked up, almost guiltily. “My thoughts? I was thinking about when we first met.”
“Are you sorry?”
“ Of course not. I just wish it had come out differently -- for both of us." Maybe it was time to talk about something else. "I hear the Unity group is still in business, in spite of everything."
“I’m still helping.”
He looked at the frail, broken woman. “You shouldn’t be. Not in your condition.”
Her eyes made contact with his. Sparky eyes. “I’ve been dictating letters, dictating articles. I can control the recorder with a special mouth switch. There’s even a possible TV interview.”
“We ought to keep our heads down,” said Sam. “Especially you.”
“You surely don’t think I’m frightened of the secret services.”
He stood up, took hold of the handle and pushed the wheelchair again. “Let’s sort out our own lives first.” He stopped in a clearing in the small wood, beside a pool filled with yellow water lilies, unable to bear the thought of Panya being hurt any more.
“It’s something I believe in, Sam. Passionately.”
He realized now what had attracted him to Panya in the first place. It wasn’t really her looks, or the thought of her body next to his. She had … yes, she’d used the word herself: passion. “Maybe I can help you with your work.” He looked away. His offer sounded pathetic.
“Thanks, Sam, I’d like that.” And he saw tears in her eyes as she smiled.
He nodded. “I’m bringing Karen and Tom to see you tomorrow afternoon.”
“Not with my face like this.” Panya sounded shocked.
“ It doesn't bother me, and it won't bother them." He leaned forward and kissed the forehead where the burnt skin had hardened into a series of coarse ridges. "I..." He found this difficult to say. "I phoned the airline today. I wanted to see if they'd have me back -- when the doctor gives me the all clear."
Panya looked startled. “Your children are going to need a father who’s home, not one who’s flying around the world. And I need you here with me, Sam.”
“Cardinal Fitz can get you back to Philadelphia any time you like.” It wasn’t what he wanted to say. Maybe he was just testing Panya’s reaction. “Your parents are ready to look after you.”
“Don’t you understand? I never thought it would happen. I thought we were just friends.”
He took hold of Panya’s hand, gripping it ever so carefully. Not that she would be able to feel his touch, but she could see what he was doing. “Remember what you told me about the path over the mountain? I think it’s time you told me more about it.”
Panya looked at him closely. “Only if you really want me to.”
“Mr. Bolt? Mrs. Pulaski?” An American in a dark suit came down the path, a simulated smile on his face.
“If it’s about my visa,” said Panya, her face coloring, “I want to stay in England.”
“My name is Martin Kramer.” The American held out his hand. “I wonder if we could…” He looked around the clearing. “If we could have a quiet talk. Visas are no problem, Mrs. Pulaski, but I need your cooperation.”
Sam felt uneasy as he shook hands half-heartedly. It wasn’t only the smile: the whole comfortable attitude seemed false.
The visitor stood in front of the wheelchair, blocking the way forward. “I want to pass on the gratitude of my American countrymen for all your hard work in helping maintain world peace.”
“They’re my countrymen as well, Mr. Kramer,” said Panya. “I’m an American too.”
Sam noticed her catch his eye and frown. Perhaps she also sensed that this man was not to be trusted.
“I’m sure the whole free world owes you both something,” said Kramer. “But we have a security problem.”
“Who are you with?” Sam asked directly.
The visitor hesitated. “You won’t have heard of me. I’m just a small cog in the wheels of security for the United States government. We’re still investigating Endermann’s plan to destabilize the Middle East.”
“Destroy Israel, don’t you mean?” Sam felt even more dislike of the man now.
Kramer raised a hand. “Whoa there, Mr. Bolt. Nothing was proved. Such a pity you killed Endermann. He could have given us the names of other in his group.”
“Killing him seemed a good idea at the time,” said Sam. “So what’s the problem?”
“The thing is, we’ve been using our agents to infiltrate various terrorist groups around the world. Our inquiries are far from over. If you talk publicly about this, you could put our agents in danger.”
“Oh,” said Panya.
“So we say nothing,” added Sam.
Kramer nodded. “For the sake of our agents and their families. There, I knew you’d understand.”
“Sorry,” said Sam, “but I don’t understand.”
The American visitor stepped closer. “Let me put it more plainly, Mr. Bolt. Endermann worked for anyone willing to pay him, even the American military at times. But he had no connection with the secret services. He was a maverick who was running a terrorist camp. His agents have not all been rounded up, and they may come looking for you. Revenge can be extremely nasty.”
“What are you suggesting?” asked Sam.
“I’m suggesting you have to think of Mrs. Pulaski’s safety as well as your own. I understand you are about to receive custody of your two children. Think about it, Mr. Bolt. Would you be happy to put their lives at risk?”
“LET’S HEAR it.” Bill Tolley sounded impatient. “A trumpet from beyond the grave, you reckon.”
Sam looked at the small gathering in the convalescent home. Panya in her new slim glasses, Bill Tolley, Dr. Wynne, and Karen and Tom all waiting in excitement. “Panya’s the only one who’s heard it so far,” he said. “And she’s not convinced. I’ve made a recording using a wooden thorn as a gramophone needle, and a frequency filter in my computer to cut out a lot of the background noise from the clay. You’ll hear loud clicks from the repairs. There’s something that could be a voice.” Thankfully, it wasn’t one of his elderly aunt’s love songs bringing back memories of having to kiss… He looked at Panya and smiled to himself.
“That is what I especially wish to hear.” Gresley Wynne stood in wheezing anticipation. “I have studied the ancient Egyptian language, but of course no one alive has ever heard it spoken. It will…”
“Sssh.” Panya could only smile. There was no way she could put a finger to her lips. Karen knelt by Panya’s side, slightly more at ease now, while Tom had positioned himself at a safe distance to stare at her in silent fascination while sucking his thumb.
Sam switched on the tape player. From the small speaker came a hiss, then the sound he was convinced was a brass instrument, exceptionally crackly, but played with a series of short blasts.
“Is that it?” Bill asked.
“It’s over three thousand years old,” said Sam tartly. “What did you expect? Hi-fi? Wait for the voice. That’s really spooky.”
“It takes a little time to know what you’re hearing,” said Panya from her wheelchair as Karen put a hand cautiously on her shoulder.
Sam smiled. “Panya’s being tactful.”
The room fell silent, apart from spitting sounds from the tape player. Then came a moaning sound, almost an echo, as though its ancient origin had erased the sense of reality. Three similar sounds followed.
“Well?” asked Sam as it came to the end.
“Rubbish,” said Bill Tolley.
“It’s the Pharaoh Akenaten,” said Gresley Wynne breathlessly. “The voice of the king as clear as the day he spoke.”
“At least someone agrees with me,” said Sam. “The rest of you need hearing tests.”
“If he spoke like that, he had a serious health problem,” Bill Tolley said.
Dr. Wynne rubbed his hands. “I know my labors at the Institute brought me ridicule, but with this recording I might be able to gain academic recognition. This is a wonderful achievement, Mr. Bolt. Would you consider being made a Partner if I restart the Institute?”
Sam shook his head. “Absolutely not.” And Karen and Tom giggled.
Dr. Wynne rubbed his hands together. “May I hear the voice again?”
“No.” Sam took hold of Panya’s limp and unfeeling hand. It occurred to him that if Dr. Wynne was the only other person who could hear anything significant, maybe he should keep quiet about the discovery. The sound might be as much a figment of his imagination as the prophecy was of Dr. Wynne’s. “I’ve made a couple of tapes. I can let you have one.”
“I’m not admitting I can hear anything,” said Bill Tolley, “but I’d like a copy too.” He took out a cigarette, caught Panya’s look of disapproval, and pushed it back into the packet. “We don’t know how fast the cylinder was turning when it was recording.”
“You mean if it was recording,” said Sam.
“Suddenly the man is lacking confidence,” teased Tolley. “Speed it up ten times and what would you hear?”
“What would you hear?” asked Sam.
Tolley shrugged. “I know a sound engineer who could filter out the extraneous sounds and leave the trumpet.”
Sam glanced at Gresley Wynne. “Isn’t that what Olsen was doing, taking out all the words he didn’t want, and leaving the prophecy?”
Dr. Wynne pursed his lips but said nothing.
Tolley pocketed one of the tapes. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“You can do what you like, as long as you don’t put our names in anything you write,” Sam warned.
Tolley just grinned.
Panya sighed. “Push my glasses back up my nose, Sam. They make me look ridiculous.”
For a moment Sam thought he felt Panya’s fingers tighten almost imperceptibly around his, but that would be impossible. Her laughter suddenly brought back memories. Memories of those few days last November when they had first met, when they had flown together to Cairo. He squeezed Panya’s hand gently again, and waited.
NEWS OF the Bill Tolley’s discovery flashed around the world. He had even been generous in sharing the glory, giving Sam and Panya much of the credit. Most experts insisted that the sound was merely a feature of too much enhancement in a sound studio, although a few museums began to search their storerooms, hoping to find engraved pottery from the Eighteenth Dynasty, anxious not to miss out on unexpected publicity from the media, and even more importantly, funding from their own governments.
Martin Kramer sat in his office in Langley and read the reports of the supposed ancient recording. It seemed that Sam Bolt and Panya Pulaski were not keeping their side of the bargain. His Operation Oracle had involved a clay cylinder, and now the world’s press would be digging for a second time into the fake prophecies at the Institute of Egyptologists. Too many questions would be asked. This was a betrayal of the promise the couple had made.
Only while they kept their pledge of silence had he guaranteed their safety.
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